Authorities choose not to recover rescue costs

By Tim Sakahara - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Two men are safe after spending the night out in the elements.  The men got lost yesterday near Kaaawa Valley near Kualoa Ranch in Windward Oahu.  They called rescuers who spotted them from their helicopter but because of the rainy and windy weather they weren't able to pull them out.  Crews went out at 6:00 this morning and were able to land and bring them to safety.

The 19 and 32 year old men from Honolulu were tired, cold and a bit nauseous but otherwise not hurt.

It's been a busy week for search and rescue teams in Honolulu.  Some calls have been legitimate, others were false alarms.  Counties could charge people the rescue costs but choose not to.

"We treat these calls very very seriously. It takes a lot of our time and resources but it's warranted because there very well could be a person that's in distress," said Captain Terry Seelig, Honolulu Fire Department.

Sometimes people walk out on their own.  Other times a full on rescue is needed with the helicopter like the one in Kaaawa.

"The hikers that are going on the trails really don't realize just how difficult it is to be rescued from that environment," said Capt. Seelig.

Most rescues take less than an hour and cost less than $1,000.  It's paid for out of the existing budget.  The crews are working anyway and it's not overtime or special funds.

Still there is already a law that would allow authorities to charge a person search and rescue costs if they're negligent.  But the fire department doesn't necessarily have the resources to determine negligence and is not authorized to collect money.

There are seven other states in the country that also allow authorities to charge the search and rescue costs but its rarely ever enforced and when it is its hardly ever paid.

The Honolulu Fire Department does not believe in charging for rescues because then people won't call when they should and that could lead to trouble.

"We don't want to penalize people by saying if you call for help then we're going to fine you because they won't call we know that we talk with people and they say they wouldn't have called if they were going to be charged for the rescue.  In our book it's easier to do a rescue than it is a recovery and I'm sure it's preferable in anyone's book that people are saved rather than suffer an unfortunate fate in the mountains exposed or fall."

The best thing is to not get in trouble to begin with.  Stay on legal trails, let people know your plan and use common sense.

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