The Swedish Mountain Rescue has a combined annual budget of 13.6 million kronor ($1.6 million) for the northern provinces of Norrbotten, Västerbotten and Jämtland, but as of the end of July it already had a deficit of 1.9 million kronor ($233,000). The problem of unnecessary call-outs is so bad that police are now investigating two instances.
“Maybe it's time to put the foot down. The mountains are no plaything. We've seen a clear increase in the number of call-outs during the summer,” Stephen Jerand, who is the Swedish Police national mountain rescue coordinator, told news agency TT.
Though statistics for the summer are not yet complete, Jerand said that an increase in mountain tourists has meant an increase in poorly prepared climbers. Mountain rescue workers have been called out by people who are not in danger, including two occasions in national parks Padjelanta and Sarek where walkers raised the alarm because they were tired and didn't want to continue their walk.
Wasting mountain rescue time carries the risk of being prosecuted for a nuisance alarm or improper use of an alarm, and while police have never previously investigated unnecessary mountain rescue alarm use, that is now happening for the first time with the two aforementioned incidents.
“It hasn't been proven yet but we think it's maybe time to put the foot down in cases where the person hasn’t done their homework, or in other words hasn't planned their trip in the mountains. Getting homesick or sore feet is no reason to start a mountain rescue operation, which taxes pay for,” Jerand warned.
In July, an air ambulance and rescue personnel were called to help a woman on a mountain near Jokkmokk who was said to have trouble walking, but when they arrived they discovered she just tired. When her and her partner were offered the choice of walking down or paying for the helicopter journey, they opted for the latter.
Even if the journey back is paid for, that doesn't cover all the costs, Jerand explained:
“We have to pay the cost of the journey to the place. We can never get away from that cost. And in Sweden we don't have a system where the person who is rescued pays a deductible or is required to have insurance”.
There are only two police helicopters in the furthest north of Sweden, one in Kiruna and one in Östersund, so civilian helicopters are hired if required. A wasted call-out could have serious consequences therefore.
“If an acute situation develops there may not be resources for those who really need it. We don't want to stop people from going out in nature. But we want them to be prepared. With the right equipment and in good condition,” Jerand concluded.