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Doctor Accused of Faking Hypothermia to Get Airlifted Off a Mountain

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Climbing a mountain can be a dangerous endeavor. If you can’t make it all the way up, don’t expect someone to carry you down.

Dr. Jason Lance, of Ogden, Utah, has been charged with interfering with a government employee, violating a lawful order, and filing a false report after being airlifted down from the side of a mountain after attempting to summit Mount Denali in May of this year. He’s being accused of faking an illness in order to catch a ride – or what you might call crying wolf.

A Daring Summit

Lance, who is listed as a radiologist at the Ogden Clinic, tried to summit Denali back in May. It is known as the largest peak in North America, reaching 20,320 feet.

Court documents show that Lance, 47, used a satellite phone to contact first responders on May 24. He asked to be rescued after abandoning his attempt to summit.

The authorities denied his request by saying, “The helicopter cannot come to your location and is not flying any more tonight.”

Lance then wrote back, “”Cant decend (sic) safely. Patients in shock. Early hypothermia.”

With lives at risk, the authorities quickly sent out a helicopter with supplies to reach the climbers in time. However, court documents show that once the helicopter was in the air, the crew was told that the climbers were descending the mountain on their own.

“Because medical shock is a serious and potentially fatal condition, Denali NPS launched a helicopter with rescue supplies to reach the three climbers, but did not at that point inform Dr. Lance it had done so,” the filing continues. “Shortly after launch, the helicopter turned around because guides at 17,200 ft camp reported that the three climbers were descending from Denali Pass under their own power.”

The authorities soon met up with the climbers. They told officials that “neither of them had suffered from any form of medical shock or hypothermia at any point during their ascent or descent.” They said they “spent hours” trying to convince Lance to descend the mountain with them, but he refused and said the National Park Service was obligated to rescue them because “we’ve paid our fee.”

Lance’s partner is only identified as A.R. in the documents. The filings show that Lance left A.R. with another group after he “began to exhibit symptoms of altitude sickness”. Lance then continued on his own toward the summit with A.R.’s satellite phone in hand.

The other climbers decided to head back once they noticed A.R.’s condition. Lance later met up with them after abandoning his own summit.

During the descent, A.R. tripped and tumbled more than 1,000 feet on Denali Pass. Lance used the phone to send an SOS. The helicopter arrived and the crew airlifted A.R. off the mountain. They took him to another area where he received life-saving treatment.

Once his companion was gone, Lance made his own attempt to get rescued.

On the day of their summit, the hikers experienced temperatures as low as -30 degrees Fahrenheit and winds over 70 mph. The American Alpine Institute issued a warning, describing the area as a “very windy and inhospitable place”. They also said that “more than one team has been stuck at 14 [thousand feet] for a week waiting for the wind and weather to abate higher on the mountain”.

Competing Narratives

The next day, Denali NPS Mountaineering Ranger and Law Enforcement Officer Chris Erickson talked to Lance about his experience. Erickson wanted to collect all of A.R.’s belongings and send them to his family, but Lance refused to give over the satellite phone.

The officer then warned Lance not to delete “any messages or information from the device.” He said Lance then went into his tent where the phone was located and zipped up the walls.

The authorities issued another warning, at which point Lance handed over the device.

Upon investigating, they found that Lance had deleted the messages he sent to rescue officials.

They followed up with Lance a day later where he reiterated his claims that the other hikers were suffering from hypothermia. He also said that he would recognize their symptoms better than anyone because he’s a doctor.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska has now charged him with three crimes.

After the incident, the National Park Service published a piece on its blog that reads, “Rescue is not guaranteed, and your emergency plan should not be contingent upon the NPS. Rescuer safety will always be our first priority, and weather or lack of resources often preclude us from coming to help. The NPS policy is to only respond to immediate threats to life, limb, or eyesight.”

“Anything that we deem falls outside these categories, we will leave you to figure out on your own, and this year we have already turned down rescue requests that don’t meet these criteria,” the post continues.

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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