Family Could Be Forced To Pay Bill For Search And Rescue Operation After Leaving 80-Year-Old Hiker On New Hampshire Trail

Two people could be hit with a bill for a search and rescue operation in New Hampshire after they left an 80-year-old hiker on a trail and did not return to check on him.

The incident occurred last Thursday in New Hampshire's White Mountains when two family members left 80-year-old James Clark on a hiking trail. Once Clark's relatives reached the summit of Mount Washington, some hikers say they breeched hiking protocol by descending the summit via another trail instead of returning to check on Clark.

According to the New Hampshire Union Leader, the two hikers returned to the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center at approximately 7:45 p.m. and contacted search and rescue to tell them that Clark was still on the trail and was not prepared to hike at night with proper overnight gear or a light. They also said Clark did not have a cellphone.

Clark was located by search and rescue at 1:15 a.m. "in a fetal position, not moving and exhibiting what appeared to be signs and symptoms of hypothermia to the point of not being able to speak any clear or discernible words," a statement from New Hampshire's Fish and Game Department said. Rescuers replaced Clark's clothed with warm, dry garments and placed him in a sleeping bag for additional warmth, the statement says.

Due to the distance and Clark's condition, responders determined that Clark had to be carried the 1.7 miles to a road where he could be reached by an ambulance. The rescue operation arrived at the road at 5 a.m. and Clark was taken to Androscoggin Valley Hospital for treatment, the statement said.

Fish and Game Major Dave Walsh told the Union Leader that the department is considering sending a bill for the cost of the rescue operation to Clark's family members who left him on the trail and that criminal charges are also possible.

"We will be looking at charges for the billing of the search and rescue," Walsh said, adding that the department will consult with the attorney general regarding negligent hiking and if the two individuals could be charged.

Mike Chermin, the owner of Redline Guiding and a hiking guide, told the Union Leader that Clark being left by his relatives was inconsiderate and that he feels the two individuals should be held liable. However, Chermin said, he is not an attorney but he does believe that the two hikers violated hiking etiquette.

"We know you go in together, stay together and leave together," Chermin said of the established hiking guidelines, adding that people in the hiking community are "really p--sed off" about what happened to Clark.

Clark's ordeal came on a night when the area experienced windchills as low as 12 degrees Fahrenheit and 60 mph sustained winds. The rescue operation also took place six hours ahead of another call where a 69-year-old hiker died after having a heart attack while ascending a trail with a family friend.

A third hiker was pronounced dead on Thursday at a local hospital after experiencing an undefined medical emergency on a trail.

In both incidents, search and rescue were notified and responded to the scene.

A photo taken on May 9, 2019 shows a hiker making their way up Hallasan, or Halla mountain, on Jeju island. Getty/Ed Jones