A man rescued after spending more than a month in Taiwan’s Central Mountain Range has attempted to clarify statements he allegedly made at a press conference June 28.
Taiwan’s Chinese language media panned the mountain hiker as being ungrateful, and even undeserving of rescue after he allegedly criticized rescue services, refused to pay for his costly rescue, and said that he will travel in the mountains alone again after he has recovered his physical fitness.
New Taipei City resident Lee Minghan, 29, was reported missing June 3 after failing to contact family 20 days after embarking on what was expected to be an 18 day hike. Mr Lee was finally rescued June 20 after a rescue team spent 5 days on foot to reach his location on a remote mountain ridge in Hualian County.
On June 28, Mr Lee spoke at a press conference, where he told of his ordeal, and thanked rescue services. However, media reported that Mr Lee made comments criticizing rescue services. He also disagreed that hikers should only travel in the mountains with qualified hiking guides, and defended his right to travel independently.
Mr Lee set off on his journey May 13 after obtaining a permit. On the 9th day of his solo hike, he slipped and fell into a 30 meter-deep ravine, fracturing both legs. Lee said he was unconscious for one day and one night after the accident. Lee made camp at the bottom of the ravine until torrential rain caused the stream to rise.
Lee then crawled on his hands and knees up a steep slope to the top of a ridge. After he reached the top Lee found that his 2G cellphone had a signal. Lee called rescue services on the morning of June 14 and did his best to describe his location. Rescue services also used mobile network towers to triangulate the signal and fix his location.
A helicopter was sent to try to make contact and a supply drop June 14, but poor weather conditions prevented making visual contact. As torrential rain set in and the helicopter didn’t reappear, Lee endured sharp pain and crawled 10 kilometers along the Hanlun trail (a former timber-getters railroad).
Over the last few days, various media agencies in Taiwan have been reporting that at the press conference held at Tzu Chi Hospital, Hualian, last Wednesday, it was pointed out that Lee’s rescue had cost the government more than NT$1.5 million. Lee said he was in support of the idea of paying for rescues but currently Taiwan’s rescue services had a lot of room for improvement. If Taiwan had a dedicated, full-time, qualified rescue service, fees could be justified, he said.
Reporters pointed out that Hualian County had regulations stipulating that hikers must have insurance, professional guides, and communications equipment including location functions. Regulations had been put in place earlier this year as a result of a 350% increase in mountain search and rescue operations in Hualian County in 2016.
Lee disagreed with the regulations and said that the type of equipment a person carried was an individual choice. Lee rejected the idea of hiring a professional guide, and said that he liked to hike alone.
Lee’s comments sparked outrage in the media and among members of the public who considered Lee’s criticism of rescue services as a show of ingratitude.
Facing his critics with the help of a friend on Facebook, Saturday, July 1, Lee said that his statements were taken out of context. Lee, who is still in recovery in hospital told his friend that the press conference had been organized by a publicist for Tzu Chi Hospital. The conference had focused on Lee’s ordeal and the medical care received.
During the conference, Lee had thanked all involved in his rescue and subsequent care. Little had been said about search and rescue services and operations.
Lee said the comments he made about rescue services were uttered in private, after the conference. He had made remarks representing his ideas about how search and rescue services could be improved in Taiwan.
Lee’s friend, William Cheng, said that for the last three days, all the big media and social networks were abuzz with headlines about “Ungrateful Lee.” But having no access to the actual transcript of the press conference, there was little Lee’s friends and supporters could do to refute the allegations.
After finally being able to visit Lee, Cheng wrote that Lee said “Thank you!” to all involved in his rescue and subsequent care. He promised that in the future he will be more careful and carry plenty of equipment, including radio and satellite phones. In addition, he hopes that government legislation can be put in place to stipulate the payment methods for dedicated, professional search and rescue teams, rather than implementing stricter regulations that limit the independence of hikers and mountain climbers.
Lee promised that he would make a full report when he is released from hospital.
On a brief post to his own Facebook page yesterday, July 2, Lee told the media he was going to face them when he gets out of hospital and that he is not going to be polite.
On the subject of Professional, full-time, dedicated mountain rescue services, see The Wild East Online Magazine: Tough questions raised about hiker’s unnecessary death.