• Kyodo

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A bill that would make Saitama the first prefecture or municipality in the nation to charge for helicopter mountain rescues was submitted to the prefectural assembly on Thursday.

Starting in January 2018, Saitama would start charging around ¥50,000 ($440) per rescue operation to offset the fuel costs.

Public mountain rescue services are currently provided without charge nationwide, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency.

The bill to amend the related ordinance is expected to be approved later this month.

“It is fair to ask for a certain charge to partly cover the cost of providing services that involve danger. Paid services will raise hikers’ awareness and should help deter reckless action,” said Takumi Tamura, policy chief of the local chapter of the Liberal Democratic Party.

The new rule will not apply to forestry workers. The prefectural government will also consider charging people who get rescued there by helicopters sent from neighboring prefectures, a Saitama official said.

According to the disaster management agency, rescues involving the use of helicopters have been on the rise since 2011. Driven by a hiking boom, about 1,345 such operations were logged in 2015.

In Saitama alone, 11 rescue operations were conducted by helicopter in fiscal 2015, with hikers saved in five of them.

Hiroshi Nishiuchi, a member of the governing board of the Japan Mountaineering Association, said most helicopter rescue operations occur when hikers encounter unexpected events. He said the prefecture should instead focus on properly maintaining mountain trails and raising awareness of the risks associated with mountaineering.

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