Archive for Monday, January 4, 1999


January 4, 1999


Why not require people such as wealthy balloonists to pay for rescue efforts when they get involved in personal projects?

Columnist Dave Barry in his recent summary of the year's events noted that once again a group of "rich guys" had decided to try to circumnavigate the globe in a hot-air balloon. He understandably reasoned that such people will doubtless try it again and again until somebody succeeds.

And there will be other "adventures" undertaken elsewhere on the globe in various risk venues, many of which will wind up demanding rescue efforts of substantial cost.

Time was when pioneers, like those who settled America or pioneered flight, went about their efforts with such elements as settlement, freedom, technological advance and social significance in mind. With so few new frontiers, we now are surfeited regularly with thrill-seekers trying to do something more to get attention than to benefit mankind. All well and good, of course, as long as they pay for the privilege and make provisions to pay for the costs of getting themselves out of trouble.

For example, the U.S. Coast Guard will pick up the $130,000 tab for rescuing three wealthy adventurers from their recent high-tech balloon trip. It is noted that one of the men involved has offered to pay the bill. The Coast Guard and the government reportedly have declined the offer, but why should they? These people were doing something they wanted to try, with plenty of financing. Why shouldn't their tab include rescue costs?

"The Coast Guard looks upon these kinds of things as a public service," said a spokesman for the agency. "Our mission is to do search and rescue and it's a public service to people in distress in the waters. That's what we do."

Not too good a response for elective adventure. And how free the Guard is with our money. Had the rescue been of a legitimate emergency nature, all well and good. But these people chose to put themselves in harm's way and should be held accountable for the costs of their rescue. And what would the explanation be if the rescuers had suffered injury or death in performing their mission?

The Coast Guard said the total bill for the rescue included $82,000 for flying a C-130 reconnaissance plane on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, $17,071 for flying two HH-65A Dolphin helicopters and $24,330 for dispatching a ship equipped with a crane in case the balloon capsule had to be pried open. (It didn't, since it sank to the bottom of the ocean and probably is irretrievable.)

Early explorers like the Pilgrims, Lewis and Clark, the Donner Party and the like, even Leif Ericksen and his Viking band, were trying to accomplish something, not seek thrills and public attention. There were no public saviors available for them.

There are enough happenings that legitimately demand rescue efforts by public agencies at public cost. Why not make obvious attention-getting projects contract in advance to pay for bringing them back alive, if such is necessary?

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