Under the mistaken impression that search and rescue operations cost more money than he could afford, a 52-year-old man — found dead on Tuesday — told his wife after he got lost in the Donglu (東麓) mountain area that she should not report him as missing.
Fang Chin-mu (方進木) of Yingge District (鶯歌), New Taipei City (新北市), set out for Dongyan Mountain (東眼山), south of Donglu, to pick herbs and medicinal plants on Wednesday last week. Fang’s wife called him in the afternoon to tell him to get off the mountain because it was about to rain. Fang called back at 4pm to tell her he was lost, but that he would eventually find his way home.
Fang told her explicitly not to call the police.
“Search and rescue would use a lot of resources and would maybe cost a lot, we don’t have that kind of money,” he told his wife.
He called one last time early on Thursday morning.
“I’m drinking water at the side of a cliff,” he said.
At 7am the same day, Fang’s wife gathered together a search party to look for her husband. After failing to find him, friends and family called police at 9am on Friday.
Sansia District (三峽) Fire Department precinct chief Yu Hui-chen (游輝鎮) immediately gathered a team of about 40 people for a search-and-rescue operation.
On Tuesday, the search team found Fang’s cigarette packet and a sock drying out on a twig.
Based on Fang’s last telephone call, in which he said he was by a cliff, the teams fanned out and finally found Fang’s body in shrubbery upstream of a branch of the Dabao River (大豹溪).
The search team was surprised to find Fang’s body 16km and at least five hilltops away from where he had parked his scooter, Yu said, adding that the area was not widely visited.
Fang’s body has been taken to the Banciao District (板橋) morgue in Taipei, where forensic experts are attempting to determine the cause of death, Yu said.
Shen Ying Mountain Search and Rescue Team leader Chang Chih-jung (張志榮) said that it was a common misconception that search-and-rescue operations in mountainous areas cost money.
Such operations are free of charge, Shen said, regardless of whether civilian or government teams are used.
The misconception probably stems from the Disaster Prevention and Protection Act (災害防救法), which states that people going hiking or fishing, or who engage in water-related activities during typhoon season could be fined between NT$50,000 and NT$250,000 if they need to be rescued after disregarding prior warnings.
The mountain area Fang went to does not require a permit and it was not typhoon season, so the victim should have called in earlier to ensure timely rescue efforts, Chang said.
Aside from the official 119 emergency number, the Shen Ying team also has a hotline on 0800-021010.
Translated by Jake Chung, staff writer