A man climbing Denali in May submitted a false report of hypothermia in an attempt to rescue a helicopter after his failed summit attempt at North America’s highest peak, according to federal charges.
Dr. Jason Lance is a radiologist in Ogden, Utah and now faces charges of interfering with a government employee, violating a lawful order and filing a false report.
According to the charges filed Tuesday, here’s what happened:
Lance was climbing with another man, named only “AR” in the charges but identified as Adam Rusky by the National Park Service in a press release in May, due to what happened next.
Lance and Rawsky were going up the famous Denali West Road. They are not registered as climbing partners, and charges say they just teamed up that day at a camp at 14,200 feet.
Higher, somewhere between 18,600 and 19,200 feet, Rawski began to show signs of altitude sickness. At one point, Lance took the Garmin InReach satellite communications device from Rawski.
Lance Rawski left with another two-person team of climbers and continued up the mountain. The other team decided to drop the summit attempt to help Rawski back off.
[Sign up for Alaska Public Media’s daily newsletter to get our top stories delivered to your inbox.]
Later, Lance also turned around and met Rawski and other climbers. When the four were descending together, with Lance and Rowski not descending, Rawsky fell about 1,000 feet down a slope called the Highway and remained motionless at the bottom.
Lance pressed the SOS button on the Rawski machine. A helicopter from the Park Service picked up a mountaineering ranger already on the mountain, and rescued Rawski, who was unresponsive and later listed in critical condition.
Lance still owns the Rawski machine, and in subsequent messages with Park Service personnel, he said he didn’t have the proper equipment to go down on his own. The park department kept telling Lance he needed to get off the mountain and refused to send a helicopter.
The other team of two people, apparently at the same location as Lance, sent a message that there had been an accident but they are fine.
According to the accusations, Lance sent another message requesting helicopter evacuation, apparently to the other climbers: “I can’t decide safely. Shock patients. Hypothermia early..”
Later, the other two climbers said they weren’t suffering from hypothermia or any form of medical shock and that they tried for hours to convince Lance to go down.
Lance insisted they stay put and said the park service was obligated to rescue them because “we paid our fees,” according to the charges.
Because of his message about hypothermia, the park service launched a helicopter. But before the helicopter could reach them, Lance and the two other climbers finally began to descend.
Once they were all safely at the bottom of the mountain, a mountaineering ranger with law enforcement credentials tried to talk to Lance about what had happened. Lance said he’s a medical professional and can recognize hypothermia, even if the climbers he said they had disagreed.
Then, in what appeared to be a tense exchange, the guard stood outside Lance’s tent, dialing Garmin InReach while Lance appeared to delete messages from the device. The accusations say he eventually handed it over.
Lance did not immediately respond to a letter left at his radiology clinic in Ogden, Utah. It is still not clear what happened to Rusky.
The incident at the center of the charges appears to be just one that angered Denali mountaineering rangers during the 2021 climbing season, enough that they wrote a succinct statement about inexperienced, enthusiastic climbers without the proper equipment and the dangers of climbing with the unfamiliar. Last minute partners.