Climbing Costs: Should hikers pay the bill for 'stupidity?'

Climbing Costs: Should hikers pay the bill for 'stupidity?'

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - "This is one of the situations where making a mistake isn't acceptable. I made a mistake."

Erik Hanschen is one of hundreds of people rescued in the mountains of Tucson. He fell more than 30 feet down a cliff while rock climbing.

"I remember seeing a huge boulder. The rocks were coming at me," Hanschen said.

MOBILE USERS: Photos from Hanschen's accident and photos from other rescues available HERE.

He suffered two broken legs and was airlifted by the Pima County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue Unit.

Thanks to Arizona's warm climate, hiking and climbing are two things we can do year-round. That means rescue crews need to be on call around the clock, ready for when the worst happens.

There are just as many calls for help in the summer as the winter, and each of those rescues cost time and taxpayer dollars. That has some wondering if should hikers pay the price for their own rescue.

According to the Pima County Sheriff's Office, rescues cost between $100 and $5,000 and anywhere from two to 12 people can respond to a call.

Hiker Rescues in Southern Arizona (for PCSO)
Year Total
2010 191
2011 153
2012 220
2013 155
2014 179
2015 179

It costs $500 per hour to use the county's helicopter and that does not include paying people on the Search and Rescue Unit.

According to records obtained from the Pima County Sheriff's Office, nearly 200 people have been rescued so far this year, and more than a 1,000 rescues have been logged since 2010.

Taxpayers foot the bill for all rescues regardless of how or why they happen.

KOLD News 13 talked with a member of the Search and Rescue Unit back in July, when four rescue calls were reported in one day.

"Things happen, a rescue can be when somebody falls down, breaks a leg, breaks an arm, but a lot of these searches are just somebody going out not knowing what they're doing," said Steve West of the PCSO Search and Rescue Unit.

Jane Larkindale and Jim Holmes volunteer for the Southern Arizona Rescue Association, which works alongside the paid members of the Sheriff's SARA Top Rescue LocationsOffice Unit. 

TOP SARA RESCUE LOCATIONS: Bear Canyon 16; Sabino Canyon 16; Catalina State Park 11; Tanque Verde Falls 9, Butterfly Trail 5; Pima Canyon 5.

"Some rescues can last 12-15 hours when someone is lost," Larkindale said. 

Some Tucsonans think the hiker should face a fee for the time and money spent on the rescues, similar to how drivers pay up if they need water rescuing as part of Arizona's "Stupid Motorist Law."

"Yup. Stupidity. Just use common sense," Jery Bentley said.

"If you make a bad decision I think it should come out of your wallet, taxpayers shouldn't pay for your inability to make good choices," said Gregory Oscher.

But rescuers disagree. 

"We don't want to do anything that would discourage the public from calling for help," said Jim Holmes of the Southern Arizona Rescue Association. "If they delay because they're afraid there's going to be an expense associated with the rescue, it makes our job harder."

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