The cost of search and rescue on the Oregon Coast

BROOKINGS, Ore. — More than a dozen search and rescue missions were carried out this year on the Oregon Coast. The bodies of four people were recovered, and about a dozen more lives were saved by local rescue agencies.

The Curry County Sheriff’s Office said a majority of their calls involve rescuing people from out of state.

In most places, search and rescue is purely a public service, funded by taxpayers and donations. However, there are counties and states including New Hampshire and Utah where people who are rescued can be billed especially if the agency finds they were careless. That’s not the case for counties in Oregon. On the coast, where dozens of rescues happen each year, people are divided on whether that should change.

“Once you get into a situation to get out of it, it’s pretty hard to do without help,” said Curry County Sheriff John Ward.

Ward said so far this year, the sheriff’s office has completed 18 search and rescue missions.

“A lot of it is very steep, a lot of it is almost straight up and down, a lot of it is very brushy, very unstable,” said Ward.

In June, a 25-old man from Virginia was rescued by helicopter after getting stranded on a cliff near Port Orford.  In September, a woman visiting from Kansas had to be rescued after accidentally sliding down a steep cliff.  Less than two weeks later, the sheriff’s office got a call from a Nebraska woman on a cliff with her dog, and she needed help.

“She got to a point where she couldn’t go up, she couldn’t go down, she started sliding down, and she got into a cliffy area, and there she was, she was stuck,” said Ward.

The sheriff’s office said many of the rescues happen near Natural Bridges between Gold Beach and Brookings.  It’s a popular place for tourists to come for pictures and to take in the view.

The sheriff’s office said when its SAR team is activated, local police, the fire department and the coast guard often all get involved.

“Equipment costs, the fuel costs, and the manpower costs is the biggest thing,” said Ward.

Sheriff Ward said rescues on state lands along the coast average about six hours and cost around $2,000 dollars each.

“We don’t charge for our services for search and rescue, we are mandated as a sheriff’s office to provide search and rescue and the county gets stuck with the costs of it,” said Ward.

The sheriff said they’ve never billed anyone for a search and rescue mission even if the person went out unprepared.  People in the area are divided on who should foot the bill.

“I feel like I would be okay paying for it,” said Sharene Marks, a visitor from Washington.

“I feel like it should be the county because they’re infrastructure in place for people to be saved,” said Caleb Case, a visitor from Georgia.

“If you go up there in flip flops, no water bottle, no supplies, no nothing and you go for six hours and you get stranded cuz you didn’t plan ahead, I think that’s one-hundred percent on the persons who went up there’s fault,” said Jeff Marks, a visitor from Washington.

Charging for rescues has been talked about before but the sheriff’s office says they don’t know of any SAR team in Oregon that does.

“I don’t really see that we’re going to ever charge people for rescuing them,” said Ward.  “I don’t want to get into a situation where they don’t want to call because they think they’re going to get charged with something or have to pay a big bill.”

Sheriff Ward said the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association has recently met to discuss other ways of generating funds for search and rescue.  The group discussed a program to sell SAR cards which allow people to purchase one if they’re heading outdoors, and the funds raised go back into reimbursing SAR missions.

Colorado and Utah sell SAR cards for $3 and $25 a year respectively.

Experts said some search and rescue missions can be avoided if people are prepared. Knowing the weather and being prepared with food, water, and proper gear can go a long way in keeping you safe.

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