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When to turn on your beacon?

In New Zealand a couple of weeks ago, a party of hikers were rescued in Kahurangi National park, after activating their 406MHz distress beacon, and by doing so, created a storm of controversy.

The party were stranded by rising waters, so retraced their route and stayed in a hut along the Leslie-Karamean Track.  They were uninjured, and safely accommodated in the hut, with sufficient food and water for a few days.   Knowing that they would be delayed from making their pre-arranged rendezvous, they activated their distress beacon.

Mike McGavin in New Zealand runs the Windy Hilltops blog.  A passionate tramper (as hikers are called in NZ), his site grew from trip reports around his home to discussions about hiker safety and training.  His discussion on this incident relates to the one-way communication limitations of the current generations of PLBs and other 406MHz distress beacons.

Their story is remarkably similar to a hiker in Tasmania who was delayed by falling snow that I reported here: https://campingcommunication.com/2015/08/10/how-long-do-you-wait-before-turning-on-your-beacon/

It seems ironic that as the COSPAS SARSAT system moves to a new generation of satellites (https://www.amsa.gov.au/media/documents/MEOSARFactSheet.pdf), users are demanding technology that allows two way communication.  This has opened the market to a range of other satellite messenger technologies.  Users primarily access the non-emergency features of these devices such as tracking or trip recording.  Whilst most are not optimised for distress alerting, they do have some ability to do so.

To find the distress alerting tool that works best for you, check out  Save Our Selves – A guide to getting help in remote areas.  This handy guide explains how:

  • to get assistance in remote areas
  • how the search and rescue system works in Australia, and
  • examines various distress alerting systems from beacons and satellite messengers.

To read more of Mike’s excellent blog, check out: http://www.windy.gen.nz/index.php/archives/5875


How satellite based communication devices are changing the world

In an example of the truth is often stranger than fiction, a man in remote Western Australia found himself stranded, rescued and then was involved in the rescue of the pilot of a plane that had gone in search of him!

On Thursday morning, police received a report a man was stranded about 100km northeast of Leinster, a goldmining town 10 hours’ northeast of Perth. He was alone when his vehicle had a flat battery. He alerted a colleague via a GPS-based alert device.

Leinster police contacted a mine site near the GPS co-ordinates and a team of mine workers drove out in the early afternoon to rescue him. Meanwhile, the man’s colleague had organised a search plane through a friend, which ­arrived on the scene just as the mine rescuers turned up. The plane turned around and headed back to base at a nearby station.

An hour later, the AMSA Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Canberra contacted WA police ­because a distress beacon had been activated 7km from where the stranded man was found.

The mine workers, driving back to their mine with the stranded man, were sent back to the area, where they discovered the rescue plane pilot, who had tried to make an emergency landing and ended up striking a tree.

The pilot and a passenger, both unharmed, then joined the mine workers and stranded man to drive back to the mine site.

The Australian 16 July 2016

The alerting device used by the man to alert his friend could well have been an SPOT Messenger or In-Reach device.  These use the Iridium satellite network to pass text messages from your smart-phone to your contacts.  The man obviously needed assistance, but as the situation wasn’t life threatening, he elected to ask his friend to arrange for help.

The Iridium network devices also have a distress alerting function, which in the case of emergencies bypass your normal contacts and alert the SAR authorities directly.  As the stranded man only had a flat battery, this wasn’t required.

The aircraft was carrying a 406MHz distress beacon. These are a single use distress alerting tool, and alert the SAR authorities directly.  When the aircraft was damaged in a forced landing, the pilot turned on his 406MHz beacon, and alerted the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Canberra.  Whilst uninjured, this was the correct use of this device, noting the location of the accident.

These two incidents used different alerting methods to arrange for assistance.  Both were appropriate for the situation.

To find out which device would best suit your situation as part of your remote communication plan, check out Save Our Selves – A guide for getting help in remote areas.

Source: The Australian 16 July 2016

Man injured in wild bull attack activates PLB

A grazier on a cattle station near Teemburra Dam is lucky to be alive after he was attacked by a mickey or wild bull on the weekend .  He was seriously injured after being gored by the unbranded bull whilst working on his property.  Unable to drive himself to medical care, he activated his PLB.

Authorities responded quickly. After determining the grazier was working alone on the property, the CQ Rescue helicopter was immediately tasked to locate the grazier by homing the signal from the PLB or beacon.  A doctor and paramedic on-board the helicopter provided emergency care on scene before the man was airlifted to Mackay Base Hospital.


Source: Daily Mercury 6 Jun 2016

Police praised the actions of the injured man.  His quick thinking enabled the rescue helicopter to promptly locate him and provide first class medical care.  It almost certainly saved his life.

A PLB is something all people who work remotely or in areas of poor mobile phone coverage should consider carrying.  Many companies already mandate such a device for their employees.  You may never need to use it, but you can be assured that if you do, help will be on its way.

To work out the best remote communication plan for you, check out Save Our Selves – A guide to getting help in remote areas.


Source: http://www.dailymercury.com.au/news/breaking-cq-rescue-route-possible-rescue/3039621/

Can you make your own luck?

Yesterday 46 people had a lucky escape after the tourist boat they were on caught fire and they were forced to abandon the vessel into life-rafts.  The ‘Spirit of 1770’ was en route from Lady Musgrave Island back to the Town of 1770 when an engine alarm went off.   The crew investigated and that is when it slowly became apparent that all was not well in the engine space.  The boat was on fire, and suddenly all 46 souls on board were at serious risk of being seriously injured or dying in the next few hours.


Spirit of 1770 in happier times – Photo: au.totaltravel.yahoo.com

We say they had a lucky escape.  But did they really?

The Master made sure that everyone was mustered on the bow, whilst the crew investigated and attempted to put out the fire.  When it became apparent that they couldn’t contain the fire, the Master ordered the crew to deploy the life rafts and abandon the vessel.  This was done in an orderly manner, once the rafts were deployed into the water.

As passenger Karl Burton described, many people could not swim.  They had to jump from the vessel into the water and then climb into the raft.  Many people who were in the water realised that it is very difficult to climb into an inflatable life raft from the water.  The crew took charge, but it was a team effort to get everyone on board the life rafts.

With 46 people now cold and wet inside two life rafts, their situation was still very marginal.  Darkness was approaching, and whilst search and rescue authorities were notified and volunteer rescue boats were on their way, there are not many volunteer rescue boats in Australia capable of embarking 46 survivors.  It was a race against time to get enough boats on scene to rescue everyone.

The survivors were in the life rafts for a couple of hours before help was on scene.  There is nothing more uncomfortable than sitting in a cold wet rubber life raft for an indeterminate period.  Many people were sea sick, and this would have added to the misery in the raft.  But help did come, from volunteer rescue boats, water police and good samaritans.

The Spirit of 1770 well alight. Photo: http://www.couriermail.com.au/

Thankfully everyone was eventually brought ashore by a flotilla of rescue craft.  Queensland Ambulance set up a triage reception centre at Town of 1770, and 19 people were treated for minor conditions including dehydration and exposure.  The community of 1770 also rallied, with many businesses staying open late to provide something to eat and a warm blanket to the survivors.

It could have been a lot worse, but the Master made a decisive decision early on to abandon the vessel.  This allowed the passengers to evacuate to life-rafts in an orderly and controlled manner.  The crew did an excellent job in ensuring all passengers were accounted for at all times.  The Water Police and Volunteer Marine Rescue responded promptly and ensured that the rescue was coordinated and controlled.  The Queensland Ambulance provided facilities to receive the survivors and treat any injuries.  It was a team effort all around.  They made their own luck.

More can be found at the following links:



What if you just get sick when hiking?

Emergency EPIRBs or beacons are not just for when you’re injured.

Last Sunday, the Bundaberg RACQ CareFlight Rescue helicopter recovered two men from Fraser Island.  The pair were aged 25 and 26 and were experienced hikers.  They hadn’t  twisted an ankle or been bitten by a snake.  But they needed help, and their distress beacon was the quickest way to get the help they needed.

One of the hikers fell ill during their hike.  The pair rested overnight to see if he improved.  Unfortunately his condition worsened overnight, and they made the agonising decision to turn on their beacon.

The beacon was detected by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority shortly before lunch on Sunday.  The helicopter responded and located the hikers in dense bush-land about 10 kilometres north of Lake Wabby.  A paramedic and air crewman was winched down to the pair.  They then extracted the ill hiker and transferred him to Hervey Bay Hospital for treatment.

It was a good outcome.  They were well prepared for their hike, but were unable to continue.  They made the right decision.

RACQ CareFlight Rescue Helicopter – https://www.careflight.org.au

For more information on which beacon is best for you, check out Save Our Selves – A guide for getting help in remote areas


Read the article here: http://www.gladstoneobserver.com.au/news/hikers-winched-safety-fraser-island/3020313/

Whose fault is it if you get lost when bushwalking?

With modern satellite guidance, enabling us to pinpoint our position on the earth to within metres, people are still getting lost on regular bushwalks nearly every day.

Many bushwalks are well signposted, but occasionally signs can be damaged or missing.  In less travelled areas, wallaby or kangaroo tracks can be more frequented than the path.  These wildlife tracks make it hard to see the actual trail, meaning it is easy to stray from the marked trail without even realising it.

And occasionally you don’t realise you are on the wrong track for quite some time.

 For most people, it is relatively straightforward to backtrack and start again, but in unfamiliar country, suddenly realising you are not where you expect can be extremely unnerving.

And if you lose too much time or become lost, your short walk can become a battle for life and death.

A couple of simple precautions can really make a difference – especially for day walks.  You should consider carrying a day pack with the following items in it:

  • a first aid kit,  especially a compression bandage for snake bites
  • a space blanket for emergency shelter
  • a whistle for attracting attention – it is less tiring to blow than yell and the sound travels further
  • a map of the area – or take a photo of the trail map on your fully charged phone
  • some extra water / water purification tablets
  • a distress alerting device such as a PLB (personal locator beacon).

If you’re planning more remote or less travelled tracks, then in addition to the above, Sergent Steane of the Tasmanian Police recently advised:

“If you’re going to those more minor routes, do your homework, make sure you’re experienced for it, get your maps.  Certainly make sure you’re fit enough, do some warm-up walks.”

Hiking is fun, and a wonderful way to see some fantastic parts of Australia, hidden from those who demand road access and a kiosk/cafe in the car-park.  Just make sure you take some simple precautions to have a safe and enjoyable time in the great outdoors.

For more information on what distress alerting device would suit your needs, download Save Our Selves – a guide for getting help in remote areas.

Ref: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-01-03/tasmania-police-insist-search-and-rescues-not-stretching-budget/7064498

How long do you wait before turning on your beacon?

Whilst the recent snow falls in Tasmania were spectacularly beautiful, for one hiker on the Overland Track, the snow proved to be an impassable barrier.  Despite repeated attempts over four days, the 44 year old Hobart man was unable to leave Kia Ora Hut due to deep snow drifts.

The man had rationed his food supply, and was uninjured.  He had appropriate clothing for the weather, and was even carrying snow shoes.  Distress Beacons are to be used in life and death situations.  Surely the hiker should have waited a few more days for the snow to melt before continuing on his journey.

So why did Police praise the man for doing the right thing and turning on his distress beacon?

The man was due to complete his trek, and he knew that if he failed to arrive, a search would be organised for him over the entire length of the track.  By turning on his beacon, he knew that rescuers would be able to proceed directly to his location, effectively taking the ‘search’ out of ‘search and rescue’.

It was the right thing to do.

More information on which distress beacon you need can be found in Save Our Selves – a guide to getting help in remote areas

The full story including a video of the rescue can be found here: http://www.themercury.com.au