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The extremely affluent engage in risky pastimes. Who pays when saving is necessary?

The tallest mountains, the deepest oceans, and even the outer boundaries of Earth’s atmosphere have always held a special fascination for humanity.

In addition, the development of technology has led to the emergence of a vast extreme tourism sector that allows people (often the wealthy) to face death while still being protected by several safeguards. If you’re willing to pay the price, you can explore the depths of the Earth and spend a little time in places where only a select few individuals have ever been or ever will be.

Naturally, even the most expensive and well-designed safety net has its limits.

This week, the OceanGate submersible Titan imploded, killing all five of its passengers, many of whom had paid $250,000 for the chance to go two miles below the ocean’s surface. Seventeen people have died or gone missing on Mount Everest this year, making it the worst season on record for the peak. Guided expeditions to the summit cost at least tens of thousands of dollars. This past spring, a heliskiing accident in Alaska claimed the lives of five people, including Petr Kellner, a Czech billionaire aged 56.

There isn’t much in common between submersible travel, high-altitude mountaineering, and heliskiing other than the fact that the wealthy tend to participate in each activity. And when lives are at stake in some of the world’s most inhospitable environments, the price tag for saving them can rise quickly.

The significance lies in the risk.

It’s understandable to be wary of an experience that comes with a higher-than-usual risk of death. The danger, though, is seen as part of the adventure by many well-heeled vacationers.

Lukas Furtenbach, proprietor of the mountaineering company Furtenbach Adventures, stated, “Risk is part of the allure of Everest, and I believe it’s the same for the Titanic, going into space, etc.”

“And I believe that as long as individuals continue to die in these locations, it will be part of the allure for visitors,” Furtenbach, whose firm offers a $220,000 luxury package to summit Everest with unlimited oxygen and private coaching, made the claim.

Furtenbach claims that there is typically an increase in demand for the subsequent season after an exceptionally lethal season.

After the tragic 1996 climbing season, which claimed the lives of 12 climbers and was chronicled in the international bestseller “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer, Everest permits skyrocketed in the years that followed.

Furtenbach claims that there is a spike in licenses issued “every catastrophic season,” or around once every three to five years.

If reaching the summit of Everest could be guaranteed without any risk, I doubt the expedition would continue any farther.

Similarly, the catastrophe in the North Atlantic this week does not appear to have dampened interest in submersible tours of the Titanic. On the contrary, it may increase curiosity due to its widespread visibility.

Philippe Brown, founder of luxury travel agency Brown and Hudson, recently stated that the company’s Titanic tours, which are performed in conjunction with OceanGate, the Titan’s sub operator, continue to have a lengthy waiting list.

Brown claimed that there was no noticeable rise in service cancellations or slowdown in new business inquiries. According to the club’s general manager, “we have seen a significant uptick in requests” for memberships, which cost $12-120k annually.

The worldwide coverage of the search for the Titan reminded would-be explorers of their chance to visit the ship for themselves. Brown speculated that the incident will lead to stricter regulations and more advanced technology, both of which might pique the attention of prospective travellers.

Tragically, calamities can serve as the impetus for progress on occasion.

Who is responsible for a disaster’s costs?

For decades, adventurers and academics have argued over the morality of conducting rescue efforts for lost tourists.

After the Titan failed to return on Sunday, the United States Coast Guard, along with its French and Canadian counterparts, launched a huge search operation. The United States government has been silent on the estimated cost of the five-day expedition, but analysts put it in the millions.

According to Philip Stone, director of the Institute for Dark Tourism Research at the University of Central Lancashire, “when tourists run into trouble in so-called “extreme tourism” destinations, the burden of paying for their rescue and recovery usually falls on emergency services and charity.”

Big rescue operations like the one for the Titan sub “will run into millions of dollars,” he warned, therefore the public will have to foot the tab.

Governments have a duty to save life, and notwithstanding the foolishness of some people travelling in an unlicensed vessel to dive to the Titanic, Stone continued, “These lives are worth saving.”

People in need of assistance are not expected to pay any fees to the United States Coast Guard or National Park Service. To discourage inexperienced tourists from wandering too far off the usual route, some states, including New Hampshire and Oregon, require hikers who are rescued from public parks to pay for their own rescue.

One veteran Coast Guard member told Insider this week that the expense of rescue shouldn’t factor into anyone’s decision to seek for aid in a life-or-death emergency.

Should people be discouraged from taking such extreme risks if doing so could lead to a costly rescue? Private equity investor and former military officer Victor Vescovo disagrees.

“Just because it’s expensive and out of the reach of most people doesn’t mean that it’s in any way a negative thing,” said Vescovo, a well-known underwater explorer who has assisted in the design and construction of submersibles. And I find it hard to pass judgment on how others spend the money they have worked hard all their life to earn.

There is nothing wrong with the wealthy spending their money on high-risk activities, and not all deep-sea exploration is risky, he argued.

No one brings up the fact that visitors to theme parks and other tourist spots might easily spend thousands of dollars, as Vescovo pointed out. This is even more extreme, after all.

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