CONCORD, N.H. — Rescue crews have been busy in New Hampshire as heavy rains have created dangerous conditions for outdoor recreation.
The number of rescues and fatalities this summer are on track to outpace the past six years, according to Colonel Kevin Jordan, who leads search and rescue missions for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.
Over the weekend of Aug. 19-21, the department announced seven separate rescues — three on Mount Washington, two on hikers rescued from Franconia Ridge, as well as a lost hiker on Tumbledown Dick Mountain, and an injured hiker on Mount Willard. Earlier in August, there were at least three drownings in New Hampshire rivers as visitors flocked to Franconia Falls and to rivers that were more dangerous because of recent heavy rains.
And the busiest part of the outdoor recreation season has only just started.
In a typical year, Jordan’s team handles 180 to 190 rescues, deploying staff to help people who run into trouble while swimming, hiking, climbing Mount Washington, among other activities.
Last year, the team responded to 184 missions, which cost $320,474 and took more than 10,000 hours of work between paid and volunteer responders, according to department data.
“I can tell you from doing this for 30 years, our numbers are going to be higher this year,” he said.
“Sometimes we get spikes over 200,” he said. “This year will certainly be over that.”
Search and Rescue has surpassed the 200 missions mark twice in the last decade: there were 225 in 2015 and 224 in 2016.
The Globe reviewed public Fish and Game announcements and found the department already had responded to at least 68 rescue missions as of Aug. 24, excluding off-highway recreational vehicles crashes, which the department accounts for separately.
Typically, around 60 percent of missions assist hikers and climbers, according to department data.
Jordan said there have been at least six suicides his team has responded to in the backcountry that are not publicly announced, bringing total missions to at least 74.
There have been at least eight fatalities so far this year, according to Jordan.
“We’re just getting into the season where it gets busy,” he said. He said August through October is typically the busiest time of year as visitors flock to the outdoors to see the fall foliage.
This summer’s wet and rainy weather has created dangerous conditions, which Jordan said are partially to blame for the increase in rescue activity and drownings.
When hikers get wet and don’t have dry equipment, they can quickly get hypothermia, especially in an exposed area. Jordan said one fatality this summer was caused by hypothermia.
Rivers and streams also are swollen with higher levels of fast-moving water that can be difficult to judge and dangerous to swim.
There are typically between 8 to 12 drownings handled by Fish and Game each year. So far this year, they have already responded to three, including that of a mother from Lynn, Mass., who died trying to save her son who had slipped into a river with a strong current.
New Hampshire isn’t the only state receiving a lot of search and rescue calls. Rhode Island already has received 84 search and rescue calls this year, and there have been six fatalities, according to state data obtained by the Globe.
While missions often can be the difference between life and death, they also come at a cost.
Responders can get injured while they’re working on a rescue, which causes the “vast majority” of officer injury and worker’s compensation claims, according to a 2022 legislative report by Scott Mason, the executive director of N.H.’s Fish and Game Department.
“Having a limited number of the same staff performing these missions can certainly burn out an average officer both physically and mentally,” Mason said in the report.
It also can incur a lot of overtime hours. In the 2022 report, Mason said 679 calls for assistance over a two-year period equaled 3,117 regular work hours and 4,087 hours of overtime.
For 2022, the department spent $145,949 in overtime, and $545,453 total on search and rescue. About $220,750 went to new or replacement equipment. The department requested $418,338 for 2024 and $434,984 for 2025.
In 2015, the state started using Hike Safe cards, a voluntary card that costs $25 per person or $35 per family. The money goes toward the cost of search and rescue missions, and people carrying the card aren’t liable for repaying the cost if they need to be rescued. The program started in 2015, when 2,846 cards were sold for a total of $74,798. In 2022, the state sold 12,191 cards, raising $311,951. About 6,160 were purchased by New Hampshire residents, and 6,031 by nonresidents.
While the weather this summer has contributed to the increase in accidents, deaths, and rescues, New Hampshire State Parks also have seen more visitors this year, with sold-out campgrounds and day-use parks.
With all rivers and mountain streams at higher levels, “It’s a dangerous time,” Jordan said. He said people always should prepare for the elements, and right now, “Our recommendation is don’t swim in rivers.”