Doctor Accused of Lying About Needing Rescue Chopper After Troubled Denali Climb

A Utah doctor is facing three misdemeanor charges after being accused of lying about members of his climbing party having hypothermia to receive government helicopter rescue while attempting to reach the summit of Denali.

Jason Lance, a radiologist from Ogden, Utah, attempted to reach the summit of the tallest mountain in North America in May. The Associated Press reported that Lance teamed with another man court documents named "A.R." to climb the West Buttress route.

When A.R. began to show signs of altitude sickness, Lance reportedly left him with another climbing group to try to summit alone, taking A.R.'s satellite communication device with him.

The other group decided to abandon the climb and help A.R. descend. After the abandoning his own attempt to summit, Lance rejoined the group as they were descending, at which point A.R. fell about 1,000 feet.

Lance triggered the satellite communication device to report the fall to Denali National Park authorities. A high-altitude helicopter with paramedics took A.R. off the mountain.

Lance told park representatives they did not have the equipment to descend safely. AP reported that after some back-and-forth, the park's emergency services agreed to send another helicopter only when Lance wrote "Cant descend safely. Patients in shock. Early hypothermia. Cant you land east of pass?"

In response, the helicopter launched without informing Lance. However, the helicopter quickly abandoned its mission when nearby guides reported seeing the team descending the mountain on their own.

The rest of the climbing team stated in interviews that they were fine but had to convince Lance to climb down with them.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Denali, Denali National Park
Dr. Jason Lance, who is a radiologist in Ogden, Utah, faces three misdemeanors for allegedly filing a false report from his May 2021 attempt to summit Denali, about 180 miles north of Anchorage, Alaska. Above, sightseeing buses and tourists are seen at a pullout popular for taking in views of North America's tallest peak, Denali, in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska, on August 26, 2016. Becky Bohrer, File/AP Photo

In later interviews, the other climbing team members said they spent hours trying to convince Lance to descend with them the 1,000 feet (305 meters) to the 17,200-foot (5,240-meter) high base camp.

Lance insisted they stay put, and that the National Park Service was obligated to rescue them because "we've paid our fee," according to court documents.

The other team finally convinced him to descend, which they did without incident.

The next day, Denali Mountaineering Ranger Chris Erickson, who is also a law enforcement officer, interviewed Lance at base camp. Erickson said he was to safeguard all of A.R.'s equipment, including his satellite communication device. According to court documents, Lance refused to hand over the device.

Though Erickson ordered him not to delete any messages from the device, authorities allege he zipped himself inside his tent alone for up to five minutes before handing it over.

In a follow-up interview on May 26, Erickson told Lance the other climbers in the party denied suffering from shock or hypothermia.

Lance responded he was a licensed and trained physician and would recognize early hypothermia better than a climber. He added he didn't need to be lectured on hypothermia, the court documents say.

When he initially received it, Erickson said the satellite communication device contained multiple messages Lance sent to park officials, claiming medical necessity for a transport. However, deleted messages obtained through a search warrant served on the manufacturer showed multiple additional messages between Lance and the manufacturer's rescue center. Among them were Lance's proclamation that there were no injuries and they simply lacked the proper equipment to descend, court documents say.

Lance faces three counts, interfering with and violating the order of a government employee and for filing a false report.

Denali National Park, Alaska
A Utah doctor is accused of misusing Denali National Park's high-altitude helicopter rescue by making a false report. Above, a view of the park entrance sign as the Aurora Borealis appears in the sky on September 17, 2017. Photo by Lance King/Getty Images