Dave.m, all of your points are good. The State of New Hampshire seems to think that if you make any mistake while recreating in the outdoors, you are negligent, and should be fined. Furthermore, this decision is made by an individual, which as this case and others have shown, seem to lack an awareness of reality.
Secondly, it is disappointing that the public—including VFTTers—excoriates the hikers with little knowledge of the situation, while making huge assumptions, and a seemingly no awareness of their own fallibility.
My sense of this, and I could be very wrong on this, is that New Hampshire's position on this is reflective of the state's politics, which leans towards low taxation and fee for services. I also sense that New Hampshire is responding politically against the USFS's land management policies in the Whites, which one could argue they are operating as an attractive nuisance.
Recall, in many locations you can't just drop an in ground pool in your backyard. You generally have to have a fence enclosure around it to prevent small children from falling in unattended and drowning - an attractive nuisance.
Many places in the US have gone to permitting systems to control crowds and provide a mechanism for educating users of the hazards they face. The USFS should do the same in the same in the Whites IMO but doesn't, I suspect, because of local input on their land management policies which again are rooted in NH political biases. Live, Freeze and Die, as the joke says.
These discussions are alway perilous. I still recall the discussion of Haas/Tinkham on usenet back in the day. I think we, as humans, are always engaging in some level of risk denial and these discussions are a part of that.
Still flying the green plaid?
Eugene Miya points out that all topics are cyclical. They only differ in periodicity. This discussion will happen again as sure as shootin'.