Mass. Skydiver Billed $10K for Tree Rescue

BOSTON --

A skydiver rescued after parachuting into a tree is now being charged by the state for coming to his aid.

The rescue of 35-year-old skydiver Andrew Stack made national news. His Columbus Day jump from Pepperell Airport ended with him dangling from a tree 75 feet above ground.

Dunstable's fire chief called for the Essex County Technical Rescue Team to assist in the difficult operation.

Once safely at the hospital, Stack said at the time, "I thank them very much for rescuing me. They did an awesome job."

Both sides agree on that point three months after the incident, but they are disputing who should pay for the extensive and expensive rescue.

The technical rescue team is made up of specially trained fire fighters from departments throughout the region.

"They are highly skilled," said Chief Michael Mansfield, who runs the Andover Fire Department, as well as the rescue team. "We have to recoup these costs. There's no other way we can do it," he said.

Team 5 Investigates obtained a copy of the bill rescuers sent to Stack for nearly $10,000. Twenty-one rescuers spent four hours getting Stack safely down.

The fire chiefs said they decided to send the bill after investigating what went wrong with the October 11, 2010 jump.

"This individual made some mistakes that forced him into the trees over a half mile from the actual landing zone," said Mansfield.

From his hospital bed the day after the incident, Stack blamed his equipment.

"I believe my altimeter malfunctioned, although I probably could have done a better job recognizing that quicker," Stack said.

Stack declined requests for an interview, but in an email said, "I'm doing good. Leg is mostly back to normal now other than some nerve damage, which should heal in time. I'd really like to just move on from this incident."

So far, authorities said he hasn't paid the October 21 bill.

"It's really his to pay," said Dunstable Fire Chief Charlie Rich. "I don't think it should be the residents of Dunstable. We didn't jump out of the plane. He did."

Rescue bills are often controversial. A Halifax teenager successfully fought the $25,000 bill he received after being rescued from Mount Washington in 2009. New Hampshire Fish and Game had argued the hiker was negligent.

Massachusetts has no statewide guidelines on rescue billing, and chiefs said these bills are rare, but handled on a case-by-case basis.

"Most of the time when individuals are being billed,they're being billed as a result of extraordinary circumstances that resulted in an extraordinary response," said Mansfield.

Fire chiefs suggest those who enjoy risky recreation might want to buy supplementary insurance.

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