Rescued hiker gets flak after (allegedly) badmouthing his rescuers

PHOTO: The China Post/ ANN

A hiker courted controversy after allegedly questioning the professionalism of the Hualien Fire Department's search and rescue team, which saved him on June 20 after an accident.

On May 13, Lee Ming-han set off by foot into Taiwan's Central Mountain Range, where he fell into a ditch on May 22, fracturing his feet and falling ill.

He managed to climb up a ridge and use his cell phone to call the Hualien Fire Department on June 14, and a search and rescue team found him after six days of searching through heavy rain.

Lee was then sent to Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital to recover.

At a press conference on June 28, Lee reportedly said that "Taiwan's search and rescue quality has a lot of room for improvement."

He thanked the team that saved him, but also said that search and rescue fees should be at the hiker's expense in order to help improve search and rescue quality.

"If rescuers are dedicated and full-time, they can charge for their services," he said. "Whether you want insurance and what equipment you want to bring (are a matter of) personal choice and freedom."

He said he hoped more hikers would take on the expense of their own rescues in the future.

Local media pointed out that Lee himself did not pay for his rescue and took issue with the claim that only dedicated and full-time rescuers are qualified to charge for their services.

According to recent media estimates, the cost of rescuing Lee Ming-han exceeded NT$1.5 million (S$67,900) and came out of government coffers.

'Twisted words'

Lee later responded to the critical media coverage on Facebook, saying reporters had twisted his words.

"I will soon be out of the hospital and will not be kind to you - very sorry," he wrote in the post.

On July 3, in an interview with Liberty Times, Lee said "the fact-distorting media has targeted the wrong person this time."

He also said he was concerned about how the incident would affect his friends and family, but that so far they had been understanding.

The controversy comes on the heels of a mountaineering statute in Hualien that tries to prevent hiking accidents, drafted in March after a sharp increase in incidents.

The statute requires hikers to apply for entrance permits, hire a professional guide, bring GPS equipment and buy mountaineering insurance.

The Rescuers Speak

The Hualien County Fire Department, which had rescued Lee, has also advocated for a "user pays" model.

"The cost of search and rescue for each mountain accident is always very high, and public funds are from the public's tax dollars," the department said in a press release.

"By requiring each climber to have 'comprehensive mountaineering insurance' to cover the search and rescue costs incurred in mountain accidents and by implementing the 'user pays' concept, social costs are effectively reduced," the press release said.

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