Dollars And Sense

Hiking’s a big thing here in New Hampshire. We have the White Mountains, which draw people from all over the place.

And hiking being somewhat less inherently safe than walking, every year we have hikers who get themselves into trouble and need rescuing.

Rescuing hikers isn’t easy or cheap.

Many years ago, I was talking with a Fish and Game officer about a rescue. It seemed a 300-pound hiker blew out his knee deep in the White Mountain National Forest and needed help out. Considering his size, the officer said they’d briefly considering “gutting and quartering him.”

(That is one reason I’m not a hiker. I already have somewhat messed-up knees.)

Anyway, the state of New Hampshire got tired at looking at these bills and passed a law: if a hiker who needed rescuing was what they considered “negligent,” they could be billed for the cost of the rescue. Prior to 2008, the law required “recklessness.”

The law was invoked earlier this year, when a Massachusetts Eagle Scout decided to climb Mount Washington alone last April. Scott Mason, 17, sprained his ankle and needed help. He used his Scouting skills to keep himself alive and safe (an amazing story in and of itself) until rescuers found him three days later.

But the state decided that climbing New England’s highest mountain alone in April certainly qualified as “reckless,” if not “negligent,” and gave the teen a $25,234 bill for services rendered.

That story came to mind when I read about the New York Times reporter who was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan, and then rescued by British soldiers. Stephen Farrell made it out of his ordeal fine, but his translator and a British commando both lost their lives.

Farrell was working on the recent bombing of a stolen fuel tanker. The tanker had been captured by the Taliban and driven to a nearby village. Allied forces, worried that the tanker would be used in a suicide bombing or in some other way against them, bombed it — killing quite a few Taliban and surrounding villagers.

Farrell was warned, repeatedly, that the trip was very dangerous. He was told that the Taliban was ready to take Westerners hostage, either for ransom or to just kill them. And he was told that the people of that area, in general, weren’t that fond of Westerners at the moment.

Not to mention that the Taliban has a fondness for kidnapping Western journalists — witness Daniel Pearl and David Rohde.

Farrell was warned, repeatedly and in the strongest language, that he was putting himself (and his translator/guide) at great risk by traveling to the scene of the tanker bombing, and did so anyway. The price for his reckless conduct was paid in blood — not his, but that of his translator and the British commando killed in the raid that rescued him.

Like it or not, Farrell owes a tremendous debt for his life. It’s one that can never be truly repaid.

But it will be interesting to see how he might try to repay it.

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