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October 26, 2009

Personal Locator Beacon Abuse

I'm sure that among the various good reasons the National Park Service does not permit cell phone towers inside dangerous parks like Joshua Tree and Death Valley (aesthetics of the towers, the feeling of being in the wilderness, etc.) is that the park service does not want themselves burdened with a lot of rescues. This MSNBC article discusses how people are overcoming that limitation with personal locator beacons which bypass earthbound systems and communicate directly with satellites in orbit. As the price of these devices has dropped (the cheapest one on Amazon is $560), more and more inexperienced people are carrying them into the wilderness and triggering them unnecessarily. The beacons do not have a way to transmit the nature of the emergency, so full scale rescue teams are dispatched, often by helicopter, to deal with the emergency. The article cites the example of two men and their teenaged sons hiking the Royal Arch Loop in Grand Canyon.

The Grand Canyon's Royal Arch loop, the National Park Service warns, "has a million ways to get into serious trouble" for those lacking skill and good judgment. One evening the fathers-and-sons team activated their beacon when they ran out of water.

Rescuers, who did not know the nature of the call, could not launch the helicopter until morning. When the rescuers arrived, the group had found a stream and declined help.

That night, they activated the emergency beacon again. This time the Arizona Department of Public Safety helicopter, which has night vision capabilities, launched into emergency mode.

When rescuers found them, the hikers were worried they might become dehydrated because the water they found tasted salty. They declined an evacuation, and the crew left water.

The following morning the group called for help again. This time, according to a park service report, rescuers took them out and cited the leader for "creating a hazardous condition" for the rescue teams.

Filed under Technology | permalink | October 26, 2009 at 12:34 PM


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