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Fish and Game to bill 'overdue' hiker found in hotel after extensive search

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 02. 2018 2:09PM
A hiker who was found at the Omni Mount Washington Resort after an extensive search and rescue operation will be billed by the state Fish and Game Department. (FILE)

The state Fish and Game Department plans to bill a hiker for the cost of an extensive search and rescue operation in the White Mountains that eventually located him safe in the nearby Omni Mount Washington Resort.

Col. Kevin Jordan, chief of the department’s law enforcement division, said he notified Christophe Chamely, 70, of Cambridge, Mass., that he will likely be charged for the manpower and equipment costs of the search. Jordan estimated that it would be several thousand dollars; the exact amount has to be approved by the Attorney General’s office.

 Chamely, an experienced hiker and economics professor at Boston University, set out to summit Mount Adams and Mount Jefferson on April 22 and intended to return that evening.  Fish and Game officials said he failed to notify his wife when he decided to abandon the hike and spend the night at the resort. She contacted state police early the next morning, initiating a multi-agency search. 

About 25 people, many with specialized training, participated in the operation, which also involved snow cats and a National Guard helicopter, Fish and Game Lt. Wayne Saunders said.

Chamely’s wife also told authorities he had a medical condition, adding to the urgency.

“We have to have all the winter stuff, winter equipment, and specialized people to go above the treeline this time of year ... When we call a helicopter it’s pretty serious, especially a National Guard helicopter,” Saunders said. “It’s a very big expense for us. But life — we put the ultimate price tag on that and pull out all the stops.”

Under a 2008 state law, anyone whose negligent actions lead to a rescue operation can be charged. For $25, however, individuals can purchase Hike Safe cards that eliminate their liability for rescue costs in most circumstances.

Chamely declined to comment on the fine while the matter is still pending, but said the experience had left him with a deep admiration for Fish and Game.

“Everybody at Fish and Game had a superb, extraordinary, and professional care,” Chamely said. “They were, of course, a little upset, but after that they were very caring.”

The Department of Fish and Game conducts 180 to 200 search-and-rescue operations each year but only bills individuals in about 10 of those cases on average.

“(Chamely’s) problem was that he didn’t notify anybody” that he was cutting his hike short and staying in a hotel, Jordan said. “My position was that we had utilized a lot of people and a lot of resources for something that could have been avoided by a simple phone call.”

Once in his hotel room, Chamely did attempt to tell his wife about the change of plans using the messaging application WhatsApp, but the message failed to send. When he woke up around 11 a.m. the next day, he was unaware of the massive search underway.

“It’s very unfortunate that this message wasn’t received and that I didn’t check after that,” he said.

Several hours into the search, Saunders called Chamely’s family to give them an update and learned that they had just received word from the Omni Mount Washington Resort that Chamely checked in early that morning.

Chamely’s bill will likely not be among the largest fines Fish and Game has imposed for rescue operations.

In 2009, the department issued a $25,000 fine to Scott Mason, an Eagle Scout from Halifax, Mass., for the three-day search that eventually located him. Mason had sprained his ankle and wandered off the trail.

The department eventually reached a settlement with Mason’s family for significantly less money.

In 2012, the department charged Edward Bacon, a 59-year-old hiker from Michigan with a history of hip surgeries, more than $9,000 after he dislocated his hip while hiking near Franconia Ridge and had to be rescued during a severe rainstorm. Bacon sued to have the fine reversed, but a circuit court and the state Supreme Court upheld it.

“People have to give some thought to the distance they’re travelling, the time they’re allotting to travel, and the conditions,” Jordan said. “So far it’s only costing us money. I’m afraid it’s going to cost us a life before we’re done.”

Public Safety Outdoors Hiking Bretton Woods

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