When Idiots Risk Their Lives and Require Rescue, Should WE Pay for It?

by Darwin on June 30, 2010

It’s become rather commonplace for vain thrill seekers to risk their lives and expect taxpayers to pick up the bill, often showing little remorse for their burden to society, and frequently, repeating the charade. After all, it’s free! The most recent high profile rescue that comes to mind is that of Abby Sunderland, who was stranded off the coast of Australia when her ship capsized in a failed attempt to circumnavigate the globe (as a teenage kid). Before she even embarked, the trip was panned by the media and sailors alike as poorly conceived, dangerous, a publicity stunt and in the end, she needed to be rescued. Estimates from the rescue include $95,000 for an 11 hour flight from a chartered jet, $25,000 for an Orion rescue jet, as well as lost time for the fishing vessels that were diverted to go pick her up. In this particular case, Australians picked up the tab even though she was an American. If the inverse occurred though, Americans would pick up the bill. That’s maritime law.

In researching other high-cost rescues, there were a few multi-million dollar rescues, like 2 British sailors in 1997 and twice…TWICE, a French woman named Isabelle Autissier – again, with the bill footed by Australians.

Base Jumpers

Base Jumpers often require rescue. In a 2009 case in the UK, a base jumper at Cheddar Gorge required a rescue operation costing over $50,000 after the public thought he was trying to commit suicide and called in emergency services. I guess that one’s tough to blame completely on him, but his actions cost the taxpaying public a tidy sum nonetheless.

I’ve read that if you are caught BASE jumping in a national park in the US, you can be fined $2000, PLUS the cost of any rescue operations that may be necessary. However, I’ve seen news items where local residents are sick of footing the bills for such rescues, so presumably, these fees aren’t always enforced or the offenders have no assets to pay the fines.

Balloon Boy

It appears as though justice was served though, in the incident of idiots where a father foolishly reported his child missing on the famous “Balloon Boy” expedition. In the end, he had to pay $36,000 in restitution for the rescue effort.

Can Fear of Fines Cost Lives?

There are proponents that oppose rescued individuals having to pay restitution or fines though. They claim that if people felt that they were going to be prosecuted or fined for rescues they’d be reluctant to call for help when they or a friend needed it and as a result, lives could be lost. Personally, I think it’s just bad judgment. It’s bad judgment to take risks with someone else footing the bill and bad judgment to not know when a life’s in danger or not. If someone really requires rescue, you do what you’ve gotta do to settle up later and call for help. It sounds to me like an excuse from the lobby looking for taxpayers to foot the bill for the fun and excitement these daredevils can’t get out of everyday life.

In the end, people will always point out that the costs of rescues amount to a small portion of a state or federal budget and it’s not worth bothering with. However, it’s that attitude that’s sucking the country dry – just like a little tax cheating here, a little welfare there. It all adds up. While we’re closing national parks due to lack of funding, we’re still forced to pay for rescues in the same national park system.

What Are Your Thoughts – What Burden Should the Daredevils Share in their Escapades?

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

David Leonhardt June 30, 2010 at 11:28 pm

This is an interesting question, and it could be solved by insurance. Race car drivers need insurance, and it would not be unreasonable for these other activities to carry insurance, too. This would not be a 100% fix. Defining “daredevil” will be tough, the devil being in the details. And there will always be outside-the-box activities (Would balloon boy have signed up for “risky hoax insurance”?). But solo sailing around the globe, or skiing in remote mountains could easily carry insurance.


Tyler Tervooren July 1, 2010 at 12:47 am

It’s sort of a complicated issue and I know what the right answer is. I hate the thought of the innocent having to foot the bill for some poorly planned stunt, but I also think that the world would be a pretty sad place if it we just outlawed and persecuted anyone willing to take a risk with their lives to do something no one’s done before.

Shouldn’t “society” bear at least a part of the cost to keep the world an interesting place to live?

It’s the nature of man to one-up himself, so as long as someone’s willing to do something crazy, there will always be someone behind him willing to take it a step further.

We pay the cost of these rescues in dollars and cents but we reap the benefits of the dreams they can provide us.


Tyler Tervooren July 1, 2010 at 12:48 am

*don’t* know what the right answer is, rather.


Ethan July 1, 2010 at 12:51 pm

How come no one considers the very reasonable option of not saving them? That way, if they want to buy insurance up front they are funding their own rescue. And if not, they don’t get rescued. Seems perfectly fair to me. The freedom to take risks comes with the possibility of losing. Society has no right to demand that no one risk their own life in their pursuit of happiness, but neither does any individual have the right to demand that society come to their rescue.


Kristina Sullivan October 13, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Tough issue. Why not borrow from European law on fire and fire hazards? If people fail to prevent fires they are fined. A penalty for failed stunts might get the idiots to think twice and plan better. I am not at all inspired by them; they should not escape responsibility and then claim special exemptions or services. I am sorry for their families if they perish, but isn’t that the risk that thrills them? A display at Expo 86 in Vancouver showed the careful preparation Norwegian explorer Amundsen made before succeeding in his expedition to the North Pole. He tested every single piece of equipment, and he and his team survived. He is the success story, not his perished rival. Guess I’m not a romantic.


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