A Utah-based cardiologist is facing federal charges for faking an emergency on Denali to prompt a helicopter rescue. | Wikimedia photo.
A Utah doctor who attempted to climb Denali earlier this year is facing federal charges for lying about a medical emergency to prompt a helicopter rescue on the mountain. In a bizarre story outlined by federal prosecutors and initially reported in the Anchorage Daily News, the doctor (identified as Dr. Jason Lance) started his climb solo up the normal West Buttress Route before teaming up with another climber (identified as Adam Rawski) at 14 Camp for a summit attempt. The two climbers were not registered as partners and did not know each other well. When his new partner began to exhibit signs of altitude sickness higher on the mountain, Lance left with him another group of climbers before attempting to summit alone, taking Rawski's satellite communicator with him. The other group abandoned their summit attempt to help Rawski back down the mountain. Eventually Lance abandoned his own summit attempt and rejoined the larger party. On the descent, Rawski and Lance were climbing unroped when Rawski fell nearly 1000 feet down a section of the mountain nicknamed the Autobahn, prompting Lance to push the SOS button on the satellite device he was still carrying. A NPS helicopter that was already in the area responded and flew the injured Rawski to Talkeetna.
Following the fall and heli rescue, Lance used Rawski’s communicator to send a second message to the Alaskan rescue coordination center, saying that nobody was injured but that he was stuck without equipment high on the mountain, asking for a second evacuation. The NPS responded saying to use a rope and continue descending, to which Lance responded that he didn’t feel safe doing so. Again, the NPS responded saying that it the helicopter could not reach him and he should descend as best as he could. The charges then say that Lance responded again saying “Cant descend safely. Patients in shock. Early hypothermia. Cant you land east of pass?” prompting the Park Service to emergency launch a helicopter that was eventually called off when a group of guides on the mountain called saying they saw the group of three descending to camp.
The two other climbers who initially helped Rawski down the mountain before he fell and then descended with Lance said they never experienced shock or hypothermia during the climb, and spent hours trying to convince Lance to rope up and descend to high camp after Rawski’s fall. Lance allegedly insisted they stay put because the NPS was obliged to rescue them since they paid the permit fee. The next day, NPS Ranger Chris Erickson interviewed Lance at camp, but he initially refused to hand over Rawski’s satellite device and deleted messages after being told not to do so, before ultimately turning the device over.
Lance is facing three federal misdemeanor charges of interfering with a government employee, violating lawful order, and false reporting for claiming another climber was in shock and hypothermic to prompt a rescue. He is scheduled for arraignment in early December.
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