Utah Doctor Facing Federal Charges For Allegedly Falsely Reporting Hypothermia to Get Helicopter Rescue Off Denali

CragBrains | ClimbingClimbing
Denali covered in snow. Image: Pexels

A Utah doctor is facing Federal charges after allegedly falsely reporting that a mountaineer was suffering from hypothermia in an attempt to be evacuated during a failed summit attempt of Mount Denali, AK, this spring. At 20,320-feet, Mount Denali is North America’s highest summit.

According to the criminal complaint filed in Fairbanks, Alaska Federal Court, Dr. Jason Lance, 47, a radiologist from Ogden city in Utah, faces three charges for the May 24 incident. Lance vehemently denies the accusation, calling them ‘baseless.’

Lance and his climbing partner Adam Rawski, 31, left Denali’s Camp 3, at 14,000ft, to push for the summit via the West Buttress. Somewhere between 18,600ft and 19,200ft, just above Denali Pass, Lance noticed that his partner displayed symptoms of altitude sickness.

Leaving his ill partner with another pair of climbers, Lance continued to the summit alone. He did not make the summit; instead, he turned round to help Rawski with his descent. On the way down, Rawski fell, “tumbling approximately 1,000ft” down the Autobahn.

Emergency rescue services were called, and Rawski was airlifted off the mountain and taken to hospital. Lance then texted emergency services that he was stuck without equipment following Rawski’s fall and needed a helicopter evacuation.

 “The helicopter cannot come to your location and is not flying anymore tonight. Do you have a rope with you? Your only option tonight is descent.”

– Park rangers’ reply to Lance’s request for helicopter evacuation

To escalate the problem and force a helicopter evacuation, Lance then alleged hypothermia:

“Cant descend safely. Patients in shock. Early hypothermia… Can’t you land east of pass?”

– Lance’s reply

Denali, alaska
Denali summit. Credit: Alpine Ascents

The helicopter launched to rescue the three climbers from the side of Denali. Without knowing this, the three climbers had already begun their descent. The helicopter turned around at 17,200-feet.

The following morning park rangers went to the camp to collect Rawski’s belongings and found Lance evasive and obstructive. He did not hand over the satellite device and was seen covertly using the device despite being asked not to delete any messages or use the device in any way.

It was later discovered that Lance deleted the initial messages saying they needed to be rescued due to lack of equipment and not hypothermia.

The other climbers who descended with him informed rangers that they had tried to convince Lance to use the safety rope and start descending, but Lance had insisted on waiting to be rescued. They also said that they never experienced shock or hypothermia during the climb.

Lance is facing a charge of interference with a government employee and violating lawful order for refusing to hand over the device at the ranger’s request and for deleting messages, the charges state. Lance is facing a third charge of false reporting for claiming another climber was experiencing shock and hypothermia in order to prompt rescue.

He is scheduled for an arraignment hearing on the three misdemeanor federal charges on December 6.

Denali, alaska,
Denali, AK

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