Charges: Utah doctor lied to get rescued while attempting to climb Denali

An undated photo of hikers descending Mount Denali to a camp at 14,000 feet in Alaska. Charges filed in U.S. District Court accuse a Utah man of lying about other hikers with him having early signs of hypothermia in an attempt to have a helicopter rescue the group.

An undated photo of hikers descending Mount Denali to a camp at 14,000 feet in Alaska. Charges filed in U.S. District Court accuse a Utah man of lying about other hikers with him having early signs of hypothermia in an attempt to have a helicopter rescue the group. ( Matt McCullough, Shutterstock)



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Federal prosecutors say a Utah doctor lied about needing to be rescued while hiking with a group at Denali National Park.

Dr. Jason Lance, of Mountain Green, called for help, saying someone in the climbing group he was with had begun to show signs of hypothermia, according to documents filed at the United States District Court in Alaska.

Lance was charged on Tuesday with interference with a government employee, violating a lawful order and filing a false report, all misdemeanor charges stemming from a pair of helicopter rescues in May.

Charging documents state that Lance and a climbing partner he met on the mountain were attempting to summit Denali through West Buttress on May 24. His climbing partner started exhibitIng symptoms of altitude sickness somewhere between 18,600 and 19,200 feet, just above Denali Pass.

Lance joined another group of hikers up the mountain while his original partner tried to descend. The two hikers he joined abandoned their attempt toward the summit and reportedly tried to help Lance's partner instead. Court documents indicate that Lance eventually abandoned his attempt, too, and rejoined the three other hikers.

It wasn't until about 6 p.m. that evening that things took a turn for the worse. Lance's partner fell from the top of Denali Pass about 1,000 feet down from what's referred to as the "Autobahn on the mountain," court documents state. After seeing the hiker motionless at the bottom of the Autobahn, the document states Lance — having grabbed the injured hiker's satellite transmitter earlier in the day — sent out an emergency signal, resulting in a rescue attempt.

Other hikers also reported the fall. The hiker was flown off the mountain about a half-hour later, prosecutors wrote.

Another half-hour after the rescue, at about 7 p.m., the National Park Service received another alert from Lance.

"No injuries. Stuck without equipment after climber fall. Request assisst for evac," the message read, according to the record.

The device transmitted a signal to the manufacturer's emergency response center, which then told Lance to email park services. Rangers responded about 50 minutes later, telling Lance to use a rope.

At 8:05 p.m., Lance sent another message, saying, "there are no pickets available. We cannot safely descend," court documents state.

Park rangers said the park helicopter was done flying for the night and again suggested Lance use a rope to descend down the mountain.

At 8:47 p.m., the document states Lance sent out another message: "Cant decend safely. Patients in shock. Early hypothermia. Cant you land east of pass?"

This message triggered an emergency response.

"Because medical shock is a serious and potentially fatal condition, Denali (National Park Services) launched a helicopter with rescue supplies to reach the three climbers, but did not at that point inform (Lance) it had done so," the document states. "Shortly after launch, the helicopter turned around because guides at (a) 17,200-foot camp reported that the three climbers were descending from Denali Pass under their own power."

The two other hikers who had been with Lance reported that neither them were suffering from medical shock or hypothermia at any point of their climb. They added they "spent hours" trying to get Lance to descend 1,000 feet to the camp located at 17,200 feet after his partner's fall.

"(The hikers) reported that (Lance) insisted the three stay put, told (them) that the NPS was going to rescue them, and that the NPS was obligated to do so because 'We've paid our fee,'" the charging document states.

Eventually, the three hikers did use a rope to make it down the 1,000 feet to the camp without incident. The following day, a park law enforcement officer located Lance at his tent, at another camp 3,000 feet below, and interviewed him about the night before.

The officer told Lance that he was collecting his partner's personal belongings so they could be sent back to him or his family. Per the court document, Lance refused to hand over the transmitter and only did so after an exchange with the ranger.

When the ranger told him that one of the two other climbers said they weren't experiencing hypothermia, Lance responded "he is a licensed and trained physician and that he would recognize early hypothermia better than (the other climber), and that (Lance) did not need to be lectured on hypothermia," the document states.

It added that park rangers inspected the device and were able to find the messages that Lance sent, requesting a helicopter because "patients (were) in shock" and experiencing early signs of hypothermia."

The document continued that other messages that the manufacturer received were deleted, "including a message sent less than two hours earlier, in which (Lance) stated there were 'no injuries' and claimed an entirely different reason that helicopter rescue was necessary, namely, because they lacked proper equipment to descend."

KSL.com was unable to reach Lance on Thursday. He declined to comment when the Associated Press reached him earlier in the day, the wire service reported. Court records do not list a legal representative for Lance.

A check of Utah licensing records shows that Lance has an active medical license. He is also listed as a radiologist at Ogden Clinic.

U.S. District Court records do not have any updates for future court dates.

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