A year ago, Scott Mason, then 17, spent three nights with an injured ankle stranded on Mt. Washingon before rescuers spotted him. Officials praised the Eagle Scout for his resourcefulness in finding shelter and starting a fire using hand-sanitizer.
Then, three months later, the New Hampshire Fish & Game Department slapped him with a $25,000 fee for the rescue. Officials said he had been “unprepared” for the hike. That set off a controversy, with many calling the charge unjustified and exorbitant. The fee was the largest ever imposed in New Hampshire.
Now the agency has reversed its decision.
According to the Nashua Telegraph, the agency said it will “not to pursue collecting the reimbursement because of Mason’s personal circumstances and conditions at this time. The department reserves the right to bring action in the future, however.”
Mason, now 18, lives with his family in Massachusetts and is a senior in high school. His family is decribed as middle-class of modest means. They have said they are grateful to the rescuers, and shortly after the incident, Mason sent the department a check for $1,000 – which was all the money he had - as a gesture of gratitude.
New Hampshire is just one of a handful of states that allow agencies to recover the cost of rescues, and even those states rarely attempt to collect them. This incident became part of a larger debate over how to pay for rescues of individuals who either go into hazardous situations unprepared, or who seek assistance when no real emergency exists.
In the White Mountains, one of the most popular hiking areas in New England, there have been many instances of hikers using their cellphones calling for assistance, only to have rescuers find that there was no emergency at all. In one notorious case, a hiker simply explained she didn’t feel like walking back to her car and wanted to be carried out.
Still, many national organizations oppose imposing fees for rescues, concerned that some individuals in real emergencies might hesitate to seek assistance.