Should the ‘rescued’ sometimes have to pay back the cost of being saved?

Every year, there is a steady stream of travellers who need rescuing after finding themselves – or getting themselves – in a potentially life-threatening ‘pickle’.

Australia can be a cruel country and those who venture into the ‘wilds’ need to be constantly aware of the potential dangers of flood, fire, heat, and simply being in extremely remote country.

It is no wonder then that emergency services are regularly called upon to evacuate everyone from stricken bushwalkers and flooded-in campers to bogged 4WDers and those whose vehicles have broken down.

While no one would ever question the need for these people to be rescued, there are occasionally questions asked about whether, in some circumstances, the ‘rescued’ should bear some responsibility for the costs of their rescue.

In the Northern Territory, Parks Australia has confirmed it is investigating the recent helicopter rescue of a group of people from Kakadu National Park after the four allegedly ignored road-closed signs and bypassed locked gates to get into the area before being stranded by a flooded river.

The NT Independent reports that the four were made up of two couples who did not know each other, and who became cut off from the road back to the Kakadu Highway by the South Alligator River after heavy rain.

In a statement, Parks Australia spokesperson Chris Smyth confirmed the authority was investigating after rescuing an undisclosed number of people near Gunlom Falls in the Mary River region in the south of the park.

The NT Independent reports that he did not say what they were investigating, what potential federal laws were broken, how much it cost to rescue the people using a helicopter, or if the authority was seeking to recover the costs.

Several sources told the newspaper that there is a sign at the turn-off from the Kakadu Highway stating the area where the people were going was closed for the Wet, followed by a temporary road closed sign across the road further along, and finally locked gates before a single lane bridge across the South Alligator River.

Mr Smyth did confirm parts of that region were closed primarily because wet season conditions made public access unsafe.

North Carolina rescue

All’s well that ends well! Members of the Haywood County search and rescue team. PIC: Haywood County Search & Rescue / Seattle Times.

These sorts of expensive rescues are, of course, not just restricted to Australia. Authorities in the US state of North Carolina last week warned people in his state ‘to prepare for a significant incoming winter storm’ and to stay home.

However, the warnings did not stop a man from setting out on a 40-kilometre mountain hike considered difficult even in good weather. It later took six members of a mountain-rescue team – dressed in bright orange winter gear and, eventually, six pairs of snowshoes – to reach the hiker who had become stranded in freezing conditions,

Last November, another US hiker was ordered to repay the US$2,880 that it cost rescuers to save him when he got lost searching for a treasure chest hidden in Yellowstone National Park.

  • Do you think that, in certain circumstances, people should be asked to bear the costs of their own rescue? For example, if they have failed to take commonsense precautions or to make sensible preparations for the potentially hazardous adventure they embarked upon? Email us here to share your thoughts.

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