Should idiots pay for their own rescue?

The NZ Herald editorial mulls it over

A party of off-road driving enthusiasts set out in 13 vehicles on Sunday afternoon to tackle a notorious high-country dirt track before it was closed for the winter. The weather in the deep south was already wintry. Snow and frigid temperatures were forecast but the enthusiasts in the group of 38, which included two children, were confident they could make the journey by nightfall.

Late that night when the snowstorm had arrived and their four-wheel-drive vehicles were mired in 2m snowdrifts on the Waikaia Bush Rd near Otago’s boundary with Southland, a rescue mission had to be mounted.

Searchers from the police and the National Rescue Co-ordination Centre were unable to reach them by land and called off the attempt at 1.30am. The stranded people spent the night in the vehicles with the engines running to keep them warm. Next day the storm continued and several attempts to reach them by helicopter were aborted.

The Defence Force was called on but even its chopper could not handle the conditions. The people were facing a second night huddled in the vehicles until just before dark, two snowmobiles reached them and they were ferried to safety on Sunday night.

All that is great stuff.  The problem is:  why did those people think they could tackle the most challenging conditions at a time when severe weather was forecast?  And should this decision mean they pay for their rescue? 

The objection has been that people in need might not call for help, or delay too long, if they knew they would face a bill. But people in fear for their lives have much more pressing concerns. If they are not in fear of their lives, perhaps the expense is unnecessary.

In this case, nature could impose her own penalty. The vehicles were still snowbound on the track yesterday and might remain so until the spring, though chances are the owners will make an attempt to recover them in the next thaw. They made a reckless decision to set out on such a jaunt in the deep south at this time of year. They live in the region and know what its weather can do. They were putting more than their off-road vehicles at risk when they set out. It might be salutary for outdoor adventurers if they lost more than their equipment when they need to be rescued. If they are not routinely charged for a contribution to the cost of the emergency services, they should be.

What this leaves unaddressed are the scores of ill-prepared tourists that need to be plucked from certain death due to lack of preparation and wide-eyed ignorance.

Things go wrong, and you can’t plan all of it away.  But in cases of stupidity or willful ignorance, our emergency services should be able to recover their costs.  Not only will that benefit their organisations, but it will provide an impetus for future explorers and adventurers to review the risks before blindly blundering into near-oblivion.


– NZ Herald

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.