A doctor is facing three federal charges after falsely phoning in a fake report of hypothermia on Denali in order to be helicoptered off the mountain, prosecutors have said.
On 9 November officials in Alaksa filed the complaint against Dr Jason Lance, a radiologist from Utah who attempted to climb 6193-metre Mount McKinley, otherwise known as Denali, in May.
On 25 May, Lance called for a legitimate helicopter rescue after Adam Rawski, a fellow climber, fell and required emergency care.
However, prosecutors say Lance then called for a second helicopter, misleading search and rescue crews by claiming two other climbers in his party had hypothermia. Lance broke the law yet again by refusing to give park rangers Rawski's satellite communication device.
May is a busy season for Denali, the third tallest of the seven highest mountains on each continent, located in south-central Alaska. As a result, rangers published a blog post reminding climbers what constituted an emergency and that a successful rescue is never guaranteed.
"Rescuer safety will always be our first priority, and weather or lack of resources often preclude us from coming to help. The NPS policy is to only respond to immediate threats to life, limb, or eyesight."
The rangers added that if an issue fell outside of those categories, climbers would be left to 'figure it out on your own'.
Details of Lance's SOS call were detailed in the complaint and a news story by Alaska Public Media.
According to the prosecutors' complaint and Alaska Public Media, Lance and Rawski met in a camp at 4330 metres and decided to team up and attempt to summit.
At around 5490 metres, Rawski displayed signs of altitude sickness. Lance left him with two other climbers to descend and continued towards the summit alone.
Eventually, Lance also abandoned his attempt to summit and met the trio lower down the mountain. As they descended, Rawski fell 305 metres down a slope called the Autobahn, suffering critical injuries. Lance called for help and Rawski was rescued by helicopter.
The issues, however, arose from what happened next.
Lance reportedly contacted rangers again and requested a helicopter to take him off the mountain as he had improper equipment for a descent. His request was denied.
According to the complaint, Lance then called again and said two fellow climbers were hypothermic and needed urgent care. "Cant descend safely. Patients in shock. Early hypothermia.." he wrote via Rawski's Garmin InReach satellite communication device.
The climbers would later tell investigators that they had been fine.
The charges state Lance told the two climbers that because "we've paid our fee", Park Service should rescue them. The fee refers to a US$375 (NZ$536) permit that mountaineers must purchase.
Park Services did launch a helicopter but before it reached them, the trio had already begun to descend.
Once at the bottom, a mountaineering ranger attempted to discuss the situation with Lance. When the ranger saw Lance appear to start deleting messages from Rawski's satellite device, he requested it be handed over. Following two refusals on the grounds of privacy, Lance submitted the device.
When approached by the Daily Beast for comment, Lance disputed the story, calling the allegations 'baseless' and information 'inaccurate'.
When Alaskan media got in contact, Lance declined to comment, writing in an email "as much as I'd like to discuss the complaint, I've been advised not to."
The charges include giving a false report for the purpose of misleading a government employee, resisting and intentionally interfering with a government employee and violating an order of a government employee.
Three days after the event, Park Service rangers published another strongly-worded post titled: "Troubling Trends". In it, the rangers reflect on the "disturbing amount of overconfidence paired with inexperience" in the Alaska Range.
Since 1932, the National Park Service has recorded 123 fatalities.
Following no deaths in 2018 and 2019, at least two have occurred on the mountain in the earlier half of this year.