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Who pays for Search and Rescue operations for JMT hikers?
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Roleigh Martin
(marti124) - MLife

Locale: Moderator-JohnMuirTrail Yahoo Group
Who pays for Search and Rescue operations for JMT hikers? on 06/24/2008 13:01:46 MDT Print View


I was asked by a fellow hiker who is joining me and 3 others on the JMT to research the question who pays for SAR operations for hikers who need life and death rescue assistance on the JMT, and in particular, if they invoke the assistance by pushing a button (legitimately) on a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) which we are bringing along (the McMurdo FastFind Plus which weighs about 10 oz) and which we've registered with the NOAA SARSAT PLB registration office (it's required to be registered - http://www.beaconre gistration. ), anyway I was asked to find out who ends up paying for the help and if it is those helped, can they buy insurance policy to eliminate going broke getting helped.

First of all, NOAA said there is no charge from them (although they can fine people who use the PLB for non-emergency uses or if not-registered) , I got an email from them. Then I contacted the Inyo National Forest office and they said they'd never been asked this question before (odd) and to ask the Inyo County Sheriff department, but I just got a voice mail from them, but emailed them the question anyway and am awaiting their response.

In the meantime, I found this very interesting web page.

http://adventure. howstuffworks. com/search- and-rescue. htm/printable

And found this paragraph -- super interesting (especially if you hike in Colorado, Utah or Oregon). On the basis of this page, JMT hikers do not need to worry then, I guess.

Comments? Additional advice?

SAR Costs: Who Pays?

­Each year, the National Park Servic­e spends $3 million on SAR operations [source: National Park Service]. Helicopters, fuel, equipment and manpower all figure into the expense of a SAR mission. This expense is passed along to U.S. taxpayers.
In the case of U.S. Military SAR, the federal government picks up the tab, which of course comes from taxpayers as well. Only three states currently have the option to charge people for rescue. Utah, Oregon and Colorado allow their SAR agencies to collect expenses, though they rarely attempt to. It's typically reserved for extreme adventurers who willingly put themselves in harm's way.

Many states are beginning to charge fees for thrill-seekers applying for backcountry permits. Colorado has a voluntary program where outdoor enthusiasts can purchase a rescue card that ensures they won't be charged in the event of a SAR mission. The money from the purchase of the cards supplements the county sheriff's office that heads up the operations.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Who pays for Search and Rescue operations for JMT hikers? on 06/24/2008 13:59:35 MDT Print View

"Colorado has a voluntary program where outdoor enthusiasts can purchase a rescue card that ensures they won't be charged in the event of a SAR mission. The money from the purchase of the cards supplements the county sheriff's office that heads up the operations."

Not quite. A Colorado COSAR card is not insurance.

The money goes into a statewide fund that each county can apply to for reimbursement for SAR efforts. If all funds are not "claimed" the SAR folks can ask for reimbursement for training and equipment. If all funds are claimed the county is on the hook.

If the County feels it appropriate to "bill for services" it can do so. I've not heard of that happening though.

Also, at least in Colorado, all this applies to search and extrication. If a helicopter is needed to get you off the mountain it falls into extrication. If you become a Medical Emergency requiring helicopter services, you are liable for the Heli costs.

Richard Matthews
(food) - F

Locale: Colorado Rockies
medical insurance? on 06/24/2008 14:37:44 MDT Print View

Sometimes the extraction may be reimbursed by your medical insurance.

David Olsen

Locale: Steptoe Butte
SAR Costs on 06/24/2008 14:38:34 MDT Print View

Most SAR folks are volunteers lead by professionals.
In CA the County Sheriff is in charge, save for in the National Parks.

If you do something intentionally risky, you may get a bill
from the county. However most searchers do not want those
needing help billed as it can complicate and increase the
difficulties of searches. (No fun trying to find someone
who is hiding to avoid paying).

Often those rescued donate to the volunteer
organization that looked for them. The local SAR folks routinely get $25 and $100 annual donations from some of those rescued. At other times we have gotten close to
$20,000 in donations from those able to afford it.

This is used for vehical maintenance and repair,
community education, and critical gear like radios that the
volunteers don't already own.

Mono County has a robust SAR group. If you are really
concerned you could call them for the skinny.

Diplomatic Mike

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
S.A.R. Costs on 06/24/2008 15:11:53 MDT Print View

Here in Scotland/UK, Mountain Rescue Teams are all volounteers. Air support is supplied by the military. The Units involved are ones that search/rescue pilots downed in action. They use it as valuable training. No charge is made on anyone rescued.

Roleigh Martin
(marti124) - MLife

Locale: Moderator-JohnMuirTrail Yahoo Group
Re: SAR Costs -- what counties does the JMT span on 06/24/2008 15:45:06 MDT Print View

What counties does the JMT span? This is tough to google. Is it Inyo, Mono, Tulare? more, less?

If the National Park is responsible for rescues in National Parks, who is responsible in Ansel Adams Wilderness or John Muir Wilderness areas (the sheriff of the county or some federal agency--who)?

What is the URL/contact info for the Mono County SAR group?

Another question. Let's say nothing is wrong with any of the 5 hikers in our permit group but we meet another hiking group and one of them suffers a heart attack or something and they ask us to push the PLB button, if there is a cost, is it to the people rescued or is it to the people pushing the PLB button? This is probably a Colorado/Utah/Oregon question though. You can tell I'm a curious guy.


Edited by marti124 on 06/24/2008 15:47:39 MDT.

David Olsen

Locale: Steptoe Butte
search costs on 06/24/2008 17:35:07 MDT Print View

In Forest Service and BLM lands the sheriff is in charge, but may ask a ranger for help with maps, personel etc.
In Washington State the Sheriff is King in his own county
and can take any personal property or draft any person he/she sees fit in an emergecy like a search or a forest
fire etc.

In CA if there is an evacuation by helicopter, the person being
lifted out is responsible for the flight expenses if it is done by
a private ambulance service. Often though, it is a military,
county or state patrol helicopter, and they usually don't
bill, as in England it is part of the training expense
paid for by the government.

Come on, you can't google "Mono County SAR"?

Look at your maps for the counties the JMT crosses?
You should have the SAR numbers and Hospital
locations written somewhere with you on the hike.
Also egress routes.

Roleigh Martin
(marti124) - MLife

Locale: Moderator-JohnMuirTrail Yahoo Group
Re: search costs on 06/24/2008 18:02:21 MDT Print View

My google problem was "what counties does JMT cross"? or something like that. I did not try "Mono County SAR" but one of the reasons was when I looked at counties for JMT, I could only find mention of Inyo and Tulaire. A second search hints that maybe Fresno County encompasses part of the JMT too. I'll have to look at the Tom Harrison maps to see if that info is on them.

As for phone numbers, what good are they on the JMT? I have a PLB, cell phones we are not even considering carrying due to the only coverage being near the end of the hike at Whitney Portal.

David Olsen

Locale: Steptoe Butte
sar on 06/24/2008 23:33:13 MDT Print View

Carry phone numbers and addresses of Hospitals and SAR
for those non-life threatening situations, and as a backup
to a PLB.

Twist an ankle and can't walk, a buddy can get out and
call SAR and get an appropriate response rather than
sending in a helicopter in a rush for a PLB being set off.

A horse packer giving you a ride out will be cheaper
than a careflight helicopter.

Going to an outpatient clinic may save you over the ER
room. If you know about these in advance it can be

As you noted, using a PLB for a non emergency would be a good way to
increase your likelyhood of getting a bill.

Edited by oware on 06/24/2008 23:35:21 MDT.

Roleigh Martin
(marti124) - MLife

Locale: Moderator-JohnMuirTrail Yahoo Group
Re: sar on 06/24/2008 23:43:22 MDT Print View

David, your points are spot on and I will take your advice. I'm glad I started this thread.

Jack H.
(Found) - F

Locale: Sacramento, CA
rescue costs on 06/25/2008 07:32:33 MDT Print View

This is my general impression and experience and some things that I've heard.

If you need a helicopter, request that it's CHP, because CHP is free. Otherwise, you're going to get LifeFlight from Sacramento or Fresno which costs $11,000. LifeFlight is perhaps the most common.

In Yosemite and SEKI, you're going to get Yosemite's helicopter which in most cases is free. Military helicopters may be used, but are rare, and free. I think that Reno also may dispatch a helicopter, i don't know about it. In a major search, different things will happen.

I once broke my foot in LeConte Canyon. There just happened to be a Forest Service fire copter landing in the area. It was going to pick me up, for free, but ten minutes before it landed some higher up radioed that I wasn't allowed on because my injury wasn't life threatening. So I ended up getting a horse packer extraction from Rainbow Outfitters. I was billed $800 but my insurance paid for it, considering it like an ambulance ride.

My party has used helicopters two times in the sierra. Both were no charge, both CHP. Once looking for a lost hiker, once extracting someone with a life threat.

I think that most of the time in the sierra, unless it is grave and imminent danger, they use the horse packers to take people out.

The book The Last Season, suggests that searches are free, unless it's proven that there was something criminal involved. Like a person faking their disappearance in the sierra.

All officials that I've talked to, don't know the answer to this question.

Jolly Green Giant
(regultr) - MLife

SAR on 06/25/2008 07:56:46 MDT Print View

I’m part of a SAR unit with the local Sheriff’s Office where I also work as a Deputy. We take SAR events very seriously and quite honestly the last thing we’re thinking is who is going to pay for our activities. In fact, as someone else mentioned, many SAR participants are volunteers and even within my organization we have an unpaid volunteer Reserve staff who is always willing to lend a hand if the paid staff starts looking for money. Members of the general public also often contribute and collectively we have been tremendously successful at “rescuing” everyone from lost hikers, to elderly persons suffering from Alzheimer’s, and children. We have also located crime victims and persons who regrettably committed suicide. I can say with certainty that we generally do not pursue reimbursements for our efforts even when, which has happened more then once, we are sent off on a wild goose chase due to misinformation or when someone is intentionally trying to look lost or dead because of a family dispute or insurance issue. I guess the way we look at it is that our services are “for the good of the general public” and to help someone whether they want to be helped or not. It’s more of a humanitarian service then a law enforcement function. Whether cost reimbursement is sought, however, depends greatly on whether the effort expands, when the state police or Federal authorities jump in, and when vast amounts of technology and/or resources are used. As someone mentioned, deliberately careless or stupid acts which require rescue are more likely to be considered for a cost. Activities on federal land which warrant a federal response also are also more likely to get a bill. In the end though, as I mentioned, rescue efforts at any time in every situation are usually done by selfless people who genuinely want to serve their community and help their fellow man. When integrity and morality are in the picture, money usually isn’t a concern. After all, if it were you or I in the same situation, we'd hope and pray someone would be there to help us.

Edited by regultr on 06/25/2008 07:59:00 MDT.

Roleigh Martin
(marti124) - MLife

Locale: Moderator-JohnMuirTrail Yahoo Group
Re: rescue costs on 06/25/2008 10:29:23 MDT Print View

Jack, with the PLB, the only outbound communication that can be made on the call is (a) your equipment ID, and (b) your GPS coordinates -- there is no keyboard or voice input. However, one has their NOAA/SARSAT registration form with "additional information" lines -- on that line, it looks like it would be valuable to add "Do not use LifeFlight Helicopter service (or comparable one that automatically bills those helped) unless specifically requested at time of emergency by one of the hikers being rescued." I don't see how a PLB-pushed incident would escalate to being a "major search", inasmuch as the rescuing service would know within 10 feet where the party needing help is -- of course after a rescurer gets to the party needing help, then it might escalate then (such as when the scout troop got hit by lightening in SEKI about 2-3 years ago).

Edited by marti124 on 06/25/2008 10:31:43 MDT.

Roleigh Martin
(marti124) - MLife

Locale: Moderator-JohnMuirTrail Yahoo Group
Re: Re: rescue costs on 06/25/2008 15:59:53 MDT Print View

on 2nd thought, maybe it would be better to add to the NOAA/SARSAT form this statement: "Do not use LifeFlight Helicopter service (or comparable one that automatically bills those helped) unless specifically requested at time of emergency by one of the hikers being rescued OR ALSO UNLESS the PLB signal is alternating every half-hour on (for a half hour) then off (for a half-hour), then this signaling method is communicating send helicopter regardless if you have to charge rescued hikers for it."

You see, the situation may be dire enough we're willing to go for broke.

(dirtt) - F

Locale: So. California
Instructions from PLB registration on 06/25/2008 17:30:55 MDT Print View

Can you leave requests like that in the registration, Would they even be met?

Roleigh Martin
(marti124) - MLife

Locale: Moderator-JohnMuirTrail Yahoo Group
Re: Instructions from PLB registration on 06/25/2008 18:34:03 MDT Print View

I will ask, the person at the NOAA/Sarsat registration office is very prompt at responding to emails. Their email address is Beacon.Registration [at] noaa [dot] gov. I will let you know what I hear.

Furthermore, even if the request is not honored, the helicopter service if they attempt to bill us, we would be able to say, we did not ask for your billable service, and furthermore, specified otherwise in writing. How would they be able to successfully argue before a small claims court that they are entitled to their billed amount?

Edited by marti124 on 06/25/2008 18:35:37 MDT.

David Olsen

Locale: Steptoe Butte
rescue costs on 06/25/2008 19:39:26 MDT Print View

Helicopter use is serious business.
For awhile in Oregon, they
had so many crash during rescues, they quit using helicopters. In the past, some Sheriffs in WA would never use the helicopters due to risk and expense. They would
send in horses, trucks, people with litters instead.

The Sheriff would be the one deciding what method of
extraction is best. If you use a PLB you are authorizing
them to use whatever means they see fit. They won't wait
an extra hour to get a MAST unit from Fallon to save you
money because you might die in the meantime. Also the
Federal helicopters are for medical emergencies only, sometimes they won't land if the person is already deceased
or is determined to have minor injuries.

Helicopters don't do well at high elevations, or in storms.
You can't count on them. I know of at least dozen people who
have died before the 'copters could get good weather to fly

I find it offensive that you would consider making someone
else responsible for your transportation costs to the point
of taking them to court.

Make a self rescue plan like everyone did in the good old
days before cell phones and PLB's.

Perhaps PLB users should pay into an insurance fund at the
time of registration.

nathan frisch
(nathanfrisch) - F

Locale: Southern Appalacians
Are you serious? on 06/25/2008 20:03:02 MDT Print View

Your analysis on ways to avoid paying for the potentially life saving rescue of yourself, or a member of your party, is in incredibly poor taste.

Edited by nathanfrisch on 06/25/2008 20:06:09 MDT.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Are you serious? on 06/25/2008 20:22:20 MDT Print View


PLB - Personal LOCATION Beacon

Rather than having NOAA/Sarsat call the Sheriff, have them call and provide your next of kin with your 'Lat and Lon', and then step out of the picture. That way you'll have complete control over your extrication methodology and costs.

No sense having a bunch of professionals screwing up something.

Err.... maybe you should re-think this a bit....

Roleigh Martin
(marti124) - MLife

Locale: Moderator-JohnMuirTrail Yahoo Group
Re: rescue costs on 06/25/2008 20:36:09 MDT Print View

David, I think we are on the same page. My request to NOAA is not to go to the extreme of considering helicopters immediately (unless of course they want to use a government helicopter). my request is telling them to consider a PLB button push a request to send help via slower, safer methods unless the communication is SOS like (on/off/on/off). Why would you find the use of PLB to send 2 types of signals more offensive than one that only sends 1 type of signal? To me, the rescue service should have taken advantage of just what type of communication can be rendered via PLB -- via time-toggleing, one can communicate the urgency severity of the crisis which I think any receiving station would want to know.

Continuing, if one sends a low-level help message then, and the government instead goes overboard and sends an immediate high price helicopter service out and tries to stick me with the bill, at that point, its the billing agency coming after you in court for payment, so why would I not have the right to defend myself stating that all I asked for was a low level emergency response -- why would me telling the judge the truth be offensive to you? I don't think you're hearing me out or being fair to my position here. Would you expect me to just say "okay, so what, I'll pay the $15,000 for the rendering of assistance to the injured hiker who needed medical attention but not so immediate it had to be done by helicopter."

As far as the comment about insurance, absolutely, I think it should be offered. I like the Colorado plan. I work for an insurance company.

If I was trying to sneak something by the government, I don't think I'd be going overboard to explore the nuances like I am, and I have called just about every agency. I'm awaiting a response from the Inyo County Sheriff Department SAR Office now.

I just think that hey, just because a PLB can only send the equivalent of a "1", it also can send the equivalent of a "0" by going "off", and once you get into combinations of "1" and "0", it is the same as morse code and hence, why not have a PLB act as least as intelligent as the old morse code system.

Greg, your idea to turn all decision making over to the family, I feel that should be left to the rescue team, the family may not be reachable and the rescue team has that option anyway. And why would the family know anything more to do than experts? They'd be clueless what to do. I'm just stating that using a toggle system, the PLB device can be more meaningful to the rescue center letting them know how severe the situation is, which is something currently not feasible (but it's certainly possible if pre-arranged and agreed upon).

Edited by marti124 on 06/25/2008 20:40:19 MDT.