It just goes to show that the old Boy Scout motto of “Be Prepared” is as relevant today as it was in 1908 when Baden Powell first coined the phrase.
Just ask New Zealand doctor Colin Jones, who having recently received a GME Accusat® Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) as a Christmas gift, was spared from a lengthy and painful wait to be rescued after an accident near Hawke’s Bay Waimarama Beach where he fell and badly broke his leg.
The accident happened at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon when he was out walking his dogs, Lily and Mini, on a beach. A rock he was holding onto broke and he fell awkwardly, causing his leg to fracture. The injured doctor rang the emergency services on his cell phone and also activated his PLB.
Lily and Mini proved that they are indeed man’s best friend by searching out other people on the beach, attracting their attention, and walking them back to their injured owner.
The New Zealand Rescue Coordination Centre (RCCNZ) picked up the signal from the injured doctor’s GPS equipped beacon, allowing it to accurately identify him and his location within minutes of receiving the alert. Subsequently a rescue helicopter fitted with radio direction finding equipment homed in on the PLB’s signal was despatched to transport him to Hastings hospital, where Dr Jones underwent surgery for broken bones in his knee.
GME MT410G GPS PLB
New Zealand Rescue Coordination Centre Search and Rescue Officer Dave Wilson said the incident highlighted the value of people carrying a registered 406 MHz variety emergency beacon, which had greatly assisted rescuers.
“For a few hundred dollars, a basic 406 MHz emergency beacon is a pretty cheap form of life insurance, which could not only save your life but also a potentially lengthy delay in being rescued if you get into trouble. This is because GPS equipped 406 MHz emergency beacons can normally be detected within minutes of being activated and provides rescuers with the identity of the owner, and an accurate position very soon afterwards.”
“This is a classic case of the injured tramper doing everything right - not only by carrying a 406 MHz beacon in the first place - but also ensuring that his ownership details were up to date and registered with RCCNZ, which allowed us to respond very quickly to his situation,” Mr Wilson said.
Helicopter pilot Dean Herrick said although Dr Jones was found by beachgoers, PLBs were still a valuable piece of safety equipment, especially for people walking or camping in remote areas as it can be nearly impossible for helicopter crews to locate injured people in dense bushland during an aerial search.
`The principle is the same - if you get into trouble switch it on to get assistance.'
Most boaties by now would have heard about the phasing out of the old analogue EPIRB monitoring system on the 1st February 2009. After this date rescue authorities will no longer be listening for distress beacons on analogue channels so it is vital that boats with EPIRBS upgrade to a digital unit before then. The new digital 406 MHz beacons are more accurate, are detected more quickly and identify their owner (see http://beacons.amsa.gov.au for more details.)
‘We have available the MT400 which is a 406 MHz digital EPIRB…We’re generating a lot of interest in that now and we’ll be increasing production to meet demand. It will become a lot more hectic as people change over…’ observed Matthew Heap, GME’s Australian Marine Product Manager
‘We’d like people to be more aware of it so that what happens on the 30th January 2009 is that not everyone phones us up and asks for a unit because we’re not going to be able to supply all the boats in one hit…’
MT400 EPIRB - GME / Garmin
Personal Locator Beacons, or PLBs, work much the same as EPIRBs and although they are not specifically designed for maritime use increasing numbers of boaties are taking them on board. Matthew Heap stressed that it was important for sailors to understand that digital PLBs need to be manually operated and will not work if inverted or underwater.
‘A PLB can be used in the marine environment but if it goes in the water it can end up upside down, which means that its transmission is down to the bottom of the ocean and not upwards to the sky. Whereas an EPIRB is designed specifically to float pointing upwards so it will be transmitting directly to satellites.’
PLBs are very popular with bushwalkers or 4WD enthusiasts: ‘if someone falls over while they’re bushwalking and breaks their leg, they can activate the unit and hold it vertical and it will transmit.’
GME Personal Locator Beacon
And the injured Dr Jones would certainly agree with this. He had previously worked with the rescue helicopter service and fully understood the importance of GPS equipped emergency beacons for individuals and groups involved in outdoor activities in remote areas. He had specifically asked for the 406 MHz emergency beacon as a Christmas present.
`I think if you're going walking by yourself you need to be responsible and that's why I got it - I don't want to waste anyone's time looking for me.'
For further information on GME PLBs please visit: http://www.gme.net.au/epirb/mt410.php
Contact details for GME/Garmin:
Standard Communication Pty Ltd
6 Frank Street
Gladesville NSW 2111
Phone: (02) 9844 6666
Fax: (02) 9844 6600