Archive for Monday, October 26, 2009

Improper use of beacons can put rescuers at risk

October 26, 2009


A personal locator beacon made by ACR Electronics Inc.

A personal locator beacon made by ACR Electronics Inc.

— Last month two men and their teenage sons tackled one of the world’s most unforgiving summertime hikes: the Grand Canyon’s parched and searing Royal Arch Loop.

Along with bedrolls and freeze-dried food, the inexperienced backpackers carried a personal locator beacon — just in case.

In three days, the group pushed the panic button three times, mobilizing helicopters for dangerous, lifesaving rescues inside the canyon walls.

The emergency? The water they found to quench their thirst “tasted salty.”

If they had not been toting the device that works like Onstar for hikers, “we would have never attempted this hike,” one of them said after the third rescue crew forced them to board their chopper. It’s a growing problem for the men and women who risk their lives when they believe others are in danger.

Technology has made calling for help instantaneous even in the most remote places. As would-be adventurers can send GPS coordinates to rescuers, some are exploring terrain they do not have the experience, knowledge or endurance to tackle.

The incidents have become so frequent that the head of California’s Search and Rescue operation has a name for the devices: Yuppie 911.

“Now you can go into the back country and take a risk you might not normally have taken,” says Matt Scharper, who coordinates a rescue every day in a state with wilderness so rugged even crashed planes can take decades to find. “With the Yuppie 911, you send a message to a satellite and the government pulls your butt out of something you shouldn’t have been in in the first place.”


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