Rescue Me

The story of that 16-year-old girl who was sailing solo around the world and ran into trouble in the middle of the ocean got me thinking about the whole rescue business.  Isn’t there something mildly galling when someone undertakes a hazardous vanity stunt and then expects the world to come to their rescue when something goes wrong?

A rescue effort — with search teams, planes, boats, and helicopters — can not only be wildly expensive, but dangerous to the searchers.  I remember covering the story of a Chicago area sportswriter lost in the mountains of Colorado.  One of the planes searching for him crashed, killing at least one crew member.   (As I recall, the sportswriter’s remains were found the following spring.)

I’m not talking about rescue/search efforts to assist someone who had been engaged in the ordinary activities of life –including recreational activities.  That’s one of the traits of a caring society– we try to help someone in a jam, even when the rescue efforts are expensive and pose a risk to the helpers.

But when someone is trying to do something that smacks of  self-aggrandizement (“Look, Mom, I’m trekking across the Antarctic, solo, at age 13!), why should society have to go through heroic and expensive efforts to be someone’s personal back-up crew?  Just how much should the rest of us pay to be the safety net for somebody else’s quest for personal glory?

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  • Phil, I’m testing you. Do you read comments and respond to them? I hope to find out shortly. Good point in your post by the way.

  • Wayne Kendall

    Phil, you make some very good points. By the way, the sportswriter was Keith Rhinehart of the Daily Herald. His body was never recovered and, to date, his whereabouts remains unknown.

  • Wes Foderaro

    Phil, I could not agree more, I have often thought this same thing for years every time I hear about one of these so called “adventurers” climbing Mount Everest or some other mountain, getting stranded, and then dozens of more people have to risk their lives to save them. Not to mention the thousands of dollars that taxpayers have to pay up to pay for the rescue. The rescued should be required to reimburse the government for the expense.

  • Jim Drass

    I agree in part with your comment, it is expensive for society to rescue those in need, but it is hard to define the line on what society should cover and what they should not. If people didn’t explore the universe or stretch the limits of human and technological endurance and exploration, advancements would expand at a much slower pace. In this case, I do think it arrogant for one to expect a government-paid rescue (especially from another country) when the feat is tried and proven and the only record would be “age”, but at some point in the future how would we draw the line between arrogant and exploration?

  • I’m not sure I can always make the correct distinction between a “vanity stunt” and approved travel and adventure. First I’d like to say I think the Guinness Book of World Records should stop paying attention to things which can cause health damage or are based solely on age. Back to the subject, when people travel far from the allegedly protective bounds of “civilization,” we’re at the mercy of the forces of Nature, no matter how big or small a vehicle we’re using, or how many others are with us. Sometimes, the bigger vehicles cost more to rescue. It’s human nature to travel and explore. We also sometimes make mistakes and foolish choices, even when we know better, even when gatekeepers have tried to educate us. But it’s also human nature to help each other out of tight spots. Traditional Inuit culture was noted for cooperation and helpfulness: people helped their neighbors survive because next time, it could be them. Years ago I made some equipment and judgment errors on a solo backpacking trip and had to wait for help to get off the side of a mountain. The people who helped me were part of a noted volunteer team. My debt to them is to be prepared, willing, and able to help others in need in whatever way I can.

  • Phil, I think when parents allow their under age children do dangerous stunts like this one, they should bare all cost.