Search and Rescue Costs: Who Pays?

An inside look at who is responsible in search and rescue efforts

Nicolas Cendoya and Kyndall Jack were rescued for days lost in the Southern California wilderness. But, how much did it cost to recruit all those search and rescue teams to save them?

Helicopters were dispatched from throughout the Southland at a cost of $2,500 an hour. Search and rescue crews came from as far away as San Diego County. And, the volunteer manpower numbered in the hundreds.

The Orange County Fire Authority is calculating how much money was spent on the ‘round the clock search. They assigned only 10 people to organize the efforts. It was one of their volunteer crews that helped locate Cendoya.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department said many of the searchers were reservists, who volunteer with the department for no pay. The other boots on the ground are so-called “managers” who do not get paid overtime.

This time, it is unlikely the hikers will be charged for the search costs.

“If there was an intentional criminal act, then they could be charged,” said Sheriff’s spokesman Jim Amormino. “But, I don’t believe there was.”

Megan Shounia was the last person to see the Costa Mesa teens before they went missing. She questions whether the pair fully understood what went into finding them.

“They said they were hallucinating and dehydrated," she said. "Probably didn’t realize how many Marines were trying to save them."

A California state law lets certain agencies, like fire departments, recover the cost of responding to a fire.

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If they determine a person has caused a fire because of negligence or has violated the law, that person is responsible and may be liable for the costs.

But, the department itself would have to pursue those cases to recover the costs. 

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