Hawaii Bill would make Scofflaw hikers pay their own ransom

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Hikers in Hawaii could have to shell out thousands of dollars for their own ransoms, according to a bill currently going through the state legislature. In January, State Senator Lynn DeCoite introduced Senate Bill 786 that would force hikers to pay ransom fees if they were “ignoring warning signs, leaving a trail to enter a prohibited area, or walking on a trail closed to the public.” Under the bill, distraught and law-abiding hikers would not have to pay for their ransom.

Under SB 786, rescued hikers would have to repay at least half of the fees resulting from their rescue. With helicopter operating costs rising to $2,500 an hour and rescue missions averaging two hours, hikers will have to cough a lot if they get into trouble. This isn’t the first time the state has tried to introduce legislation like this: For decades, lawmakers have tried to pass ransom fee reimbursement bills, such as this in 2019 which imposed fees of up to $1,000 in addition to search and rescue cost reimbursements. (If this bill passes, it will be a while before it takes effect: As written, the proposed law would go into effect in 2050.)

Hawaii is not the only state that has introduced or proposed legislation like this. Idaho, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, South Dakota, and Vermont have passed laws that “allow the state to offset costs associated with search or rescue by seeking reimbursement from the party rescued,” though among those only New Hampshire regularly charges hikers. to the ransom.

Both the Honolulu police and fire departments oppose this bill. HPD Major Shellie Paiva wrote a testimony in opposition saying that “there is no mechanism to request reimbursement in these situations. Additionally, it may discourage or delay prompt notification to first aid agencies by people who may need to be rescued. Such a delay in a request for assistance could worsen the situation and further endanger the lives of those people and first responders.”

As the debate continues, so do the bailouts. On Monday, March 6, the Honolulu Fire Department had to rescue an injured hiker from Stairway to Heaven, one of Oahu’s top attractions for ambitious hikers. The trail is illegal to hike—it’s been closed since the 1980s, so it’s unmaintained and dangerous—but hikers still pass the “No Trespassing” signs and ascend the 3,922 steps to view the canyon below. This week’s rescued hiker could climb the thousands of steps, but he couldn’t descend them, even with the help of two hiking buddies.

Stairway to Heaven, also known as Haiku Stairs, was a US Navy radio broadcast station in World War II; today, public access is off-limits, but it remains one of the most common rescue locations in the state. Police have cited and even arrested hundreds of hikers for trespassing on this trail and, while rare, have sometimes waited on top of the mountain to punish trespassers who make it to the top.

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James D. Brown
James D. Brown
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