Monday, November 15, 2010

Personal Locator Beacon Saves Lives

On a balmy summer afternoon, Andy Stanton, 48, and his friend, Karl Hansen, were hunting 100 miles northwest of Anchorage, Alaska. They were about to top out on a mountain ridge to scout for game when Stanton’s ATV bogged down. He revved the throttle but it wouldn’t budge. When he let off the throttle, the bike jerked backwards, causing Stanton to fall back in the seat. It then rolled down the incline catching the back wheels. The front end came up and Stanton slid off the rear landing on his back with his head pointing downhill.

To his horror, Stanton saw the four-wheeler coming right over on top of him. He instinctively put up his arms and legs to deflect it but the vehicle weighed 750 pounds. His legs came up over his head and the machine fell on Stanton, completely compressing him. He heard and felt his back break. 

The four-wheeler continued down the mountain a short distance before it stopped. 

The good news is that Stanton had wisely decided to carry a personal locator beacon (PLB) with him. Using that device, a person in trouble can summon help via a system that employs satellites dedicated to the very purpose of aiding search and rescue. One press of the button sends a signal to the satellites, and that signal is forwarded on to a rescue center that then contacts the search and rescue units nearest to your location. The exact location is known because the PLB sends your GPS coordinates as part of the message calling for help. A fantastic system. 

The bad news is that Stanton's PLB was strapped to his backpack on the ATV that was now a long way down the mountain from him. Lying there on the mountainside with a broken back, Stanton had no way to retrieve and activate the PLB. 

Fortunately, Stanton was not alone. His hunting buddy scrambled down the mountain and retrieved the  PLB and activated it at 1:37 p.m. Stanton said he was in such excruciating pain he didn’t want to take any chances regardless of having a cell phone. Cell phones are nice, but coverage is sketchy to nonexistent when you're far from civilization. That's when a PLB might be your only chance. 

As it turns out, there was no cell phone signal where Stanton lay injured, so Hansen climbed the ridge in an attempt to get coverage. At 2:10 p.m., he was amazed when his 911call went through and state troopers informed him that the beacon’s satellite-detectable distress signal had already been identified and Search and Rescue (SAR) personnel were enroute. At 3:30 p.m., a hospital Life Flight helicopter arrived and airlifted Stanton to Providence Hospital in Anchorage. He was hospitalized for a week with a broken back but, luckily, he was not paralyzed. Several weeks later, he was able to return to his civilian Army job wearing a rigid body support.

Stanton and his wife, Jan, also a hunter, have decided to purchase a second ACR MicroFix™ PLB. Then, if one beacon gets crushed or disabled, they’ll have a back-up unit. “I can’t tell you what peace of mind having that beacon gives you. No one thinks it’ll happen to them. In Alaska, things can turn bad in a blink of an eye. We’re not at the top of the food chain out here,” Stanton said, referring to brown bears that feast on nearby spawning salmon this time of year.

The big lesson Stanton said he learned that day was the necessity of keeping the beacon on your body at all times, not attached to something that you can be separated from. “If I had been alone, it would have been bad. I would’ve had to drag myself down the mountain to my ATV to activate the beacon,” he said.

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