CONCORD, N.H. – A Massachusetts teenager who spent three nights alone on Mount Washington in April after he sprained an ankle and veered off marked trails has been fined more than $25,000 for the cost of his rescue.
Scott Mason had been praised for utilizing his Eagle Scout skills — sleeping in the crevice of a boulder and jump-starting fires with hand sanitzer gel. But authorities say he wasn't prepared for the conditions he encountered and shouldn't have set out on such an ambitious hike.
"Yes, he'd been out there in July when you could step across the brooks. And people have been out there in winter in hard-packed snow. But with these spring conditions, it was soft snow, it was deep snow," said Fish and Game Maj. Tim Acerno.
Acerno said he believes Mason's fine is the largest ever sought under a 9-year-old New Hampshire law that allows lost hikers and climbers to be charged for rescue costs. Mason's rescue was particularly expensive because the helicopters the state typically used were unavailable, and a helicopter from Maine had to be brought in, Acerno said.
Mason, 17, of Halifax, Mass., had planned to spend one day hiking 17 miles in the New Hampshire mountains but ended up lost after he hurt his ankle and decided to take a shortcut. The shortcut led him into rising water and deep snow caused by unseasonably warm weather.
Mason was negligent in continuing up the mountain with an injury and veering off the marked path, Acerno said. Negligence, he said, is based on judging what a reasonable person would do in the same situation.
"When I twist my ankle, I turn around and come down. He kept going up," Acerno said.
"It was his negligence that led to him getting into that predicament," he said. "Once he was in that predicament, yes, that's what we praise him for — he used his Boy Scout skills, and that's why he's still alive."
Several states, including neighboring Maine and Vermont, have rescue repayment laws similiar to New Hampshire, though others tend to be more lenient. In Washington state, a bill that would have created a reimbursement system with fines capped at $500 never even made it out of committee this year. In New Hampshire, however, lawmakers made it even easier to charge for rescues last year when they changed the law to allow fines for those who acted negligently instead of the harder to prove standard of recklessness.
New Hampshire officials have estimated that they could seek reimbursement in about 40 of the 140 or so rescues it typically handles each year. The money goes to the Fish and Game department's rescue fund. In most cases, hikers pay a few hundred dollars.
For the fiscal year that ended June 30, there were 131 missions that cost $175,320, Acerno said. He did not know how many of them resulted in fines.
Mason's family said they would not comment on the bill, which was mailed July 10. Mason has until August 9 to pay the bill; he could also take the state to court to contest the fine.