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Fake Hypothermia SOS Call on Denali Leads to Federal Charges

Climber charged for Denali SOS call, woman is youngest to run 100 marathons, Bearsun takes Manhattan

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Originally published in Outside

A climber phoned in a fake report of hypothermia on Denali so he could be helicoptered off the mountain, say prosecutors in Alaska.

On November 9 officials in Fairbanks filed three federal charges against Dr. Jason Lance, a radiologist from Ogden, Utah, stemming from his attempt to scale 20,320-foot Denali this past May. On May 25, Lance called for a helicopter rescue after one of the climbers in his party, Adam Rawski of British Columbia, suffered a fall and required emergency attention.

Prosecutors say Lance then misled search and rescue crews after he called for a second helicopter rescue, claiming that two other members in his party were suffering from hypothermia. Lance then broke the law again when he refused to hand over Rawski’s satellite communication device to a park ranger.

The situation occurred amid a busy climbing season on Denali and prompted rangers to write a blog post reminding climbers that the Parks Service cannot guarantee rescue on the mountain.

“Rescue is not guaranteed, and your emergency plan should not be contingent upon the NPS, rangers wrote. “Rescuer safety will always be our first priority, and weather or lack of resources often preclude us from coming to help. The NPS policy is to only respond to immediate threats to life, limb, or eyesight. Anything that we deem falls outside these categories, we will leave you to figure out on your own, and this year we have already turned down rescue requests that don’t meet these criteria.

Prosecutors described the details of Lance’s SOS call in the complaint, and Casey Grove of Alaska Public Media also wrote about the situation in a recent news story. Lance and Rawski teamed up for a summit push after meeting in a camp at 14,200 feet, but somewhere above 18,000 feet, Rawski showed signs of altitude sickness. Lance pushed on for the summit solo and left Rawski with two other climbers, and the trio began to descend.

Lance then abandoned his own summit push and linked up with the three at lower elevation. As the party descended, Rawski suffered a fall and tumbled 1,000 feet down a slope called the Autobahn. Lance called for help, and eventually a helicopter rescued Rawski, who was later listed in critical condition.

After the rescue, Lance reportedly continued to contact rangers asking to be helicoptered off of the mountain, citing his improper equipment for the descent. After rangers informed Lance that he needed to get down on his own, he reportedly sent another message saying that the other two climbers in his party were suffering from hypothermia and needed evacuation. Those two climbers later told investigators that they were fine.

According to the charges, Lance told the other two climbers that the Park Service should rescue them because “We’ve paid our fee.” Mountaineers must purchase a $375 special use permit to climb the mountain. 

After the trio safely descended, a mountaineering ranger approached Lance to discuss the situation. According to the charges, the ranger then asked to see Rawski’s satellite transmission device, which Lance had taken from him before he was airlifted from the mountain. Lance twice refused to hand over the device, telling the ranger that the requests violated his privacy. Lance eventually surrendered the device.

Lance disputed the story when reached by the Daily Beast for comment.

“The allegations are baseless,” he texted a reporter from the website. “Some of the information in it is inaccurate. There’s also other stuff that went on that’s not mentioned. I’m appalled, really.”

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