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Mountain Green man accused of faking hypothermia report on Mount Denali climb

By Mark Shenefelt - | Nov 11, 2021

Becky Bohrer

FILE - This Aug. 19, 2011 file photo shows Mount McKinley in Denali National Park, Alaska. President Barack Obama on Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015 said he's changing the name of the tallest mountain in North America from Mount McKinley to Denali. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File)

A Mountain Green man has been charged in Alaska federal court with falsely reporting a climber had hypothermia in the hope of getting a helicopter lift down from rugged Mount Denali, then being uncooperative when questioned by a park ranger.

Jason Lance, 47, a medical doctor who practices in Ogden, faces charges of making a false report, violating a lawful order and interfering with a government employee related to Lance’s attempt to summit Denali, North America’s tallest mountain, on May 24.

U.S. prosecutors said in charging documents that Lance was with another climber who experienced altitude sickness as they moved beyond 18,600 feet. The other climber stayed with another group of two as Lance continued upward. The two other climbers abandoned their effort so they could help the ill climber descend.

Lance later abandoned his climb and rejoined the other three. As they traversed Denali Pass, the ill climber fell, tumbling 1,000 feet. Lance had that climber’s satellite communications device and he made an emergency call. The climber was found alive but unresponsive and was taken from the mountain by helicopter.

Charging documents said Lance later radioed for help descending, saying he was not injured but was hampered by the other climber’s equipment. Park authorities responded that a helicopter could not return so late in the day and his only option was to keep climbing down.

At 8:47 p.m., according to the charges, Lance radioed Denali park officials, “Can’t descend safely. Patients in shock. Early hypothermia. Can’t you land east of pass?” Because shock is a dangerous condition, park rangers launched a helicopter, but it soon turned around when guides at 17,200 feet reported Lance and the other two climbers were descending under their own power.

The other two told park rangers they had spent hours trying to persuade Lance to descend with them, but he allegedly insisted they stay there and that park rangers were obligated to rescue them. They finally convinced him to climb down, after he had made the alleged hypothermia report.

A park investigator interviewed Lance at the 14,000-foot camp the next day and later reported that Lance repeatedly refused to turn over the injured climber’s satellite radio. The investigator said he found the refusal to be suspicious because Lance did not know the other climber well — they had just teamed up before the summit attempt.

The ranger said he watched Lance go into his tent and pick up the radio, allegedly in a secretive manner, and also picked up his cellphone and began making swiping motions on it. The ranger told Lance not to delete any messages on the radio. Lance allegedly zipped the tent closed, telling the ranger he was violating his privacy. After the ranger told Lance he could face charges if he tampered with the radio, Lance opened the tent flap and gave him the device.

The investigator reported that the other two climbers said they did not experience hypothermia during the climb, after Lance allegedly said one of them had been experiencing the condition. Lance said he is a licensed and trained physician and could recognize early hypothermia better than the climber.

The charges, all misdemeanors, were filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Fairbanks. Lance did not have an attorney of record as of Thursday afternoon. A person who answered the phone at his office said, “We have been instructed to say no comment.”

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