Sunday, June 15, 2008

PLB in action

Like me, you're probably keen on reading any story related to the use - particularly successful use - of a personal locater beacon (PLB).

I subscribe to Stephen Regenold's The Gear Junkie, a daily and weekly blog e-news devoted to new outdoors gear (though I'm yet to win the weekly give away!). Regenold recently posted a Q&A article detailing a mountaineering incident in early June in which a PLB was employed. One of the involved climbers, Bill Becher, a writer from southern California, had the ACR MicroFix PLB unit in his pack, though he never expected to use it. But while descending from Mt. Gilbert near Bishop, Calif., in the Sierra Nevada mountains, Becher’s friend and climbing partner fell and broke his leg. They were several miles from civilization with no good options.

An interesting lesson learned from the incident, which can neatly be related back to kayaking, is that the PLB isn’t that precise and you need some way to signal rescuers. Becher says that the helicopter had difficulty spotting them until they saw him waving his red parka.

So don't forget to carry that signal mirror and some flares with you!


Capt'n "O" Dark 30 & Super Boo said...

Good post... glad to see your back my little gear junkie!!

We're bailing here in Wisconsin... lots and lots of flooding...serious flooding!

David said...

Interesting Q&A. I agree completely about having means of signaling, but I was little puzzled by the interviewee's comment that the "PLB isn't that precise." The spec. on the ACR MicroFix is 100 meters, which should be conservative with 12 channels and selective availability on. Indeed, my experience receiving your SPOT signals was that they were generally within maybe 50 meters (I could tell by looking for landmarks from the sat. photos).

Of course, I suppose you have to add the possible error of the ACR's transmitted signal to the helicopter's GPS error, and I guess a couple of hundred meters could be a problem in a snow storm.

Steve said...

Here's another story of a sailor being saved with the help of an epirb, though it was a sad loss of a beautiful John Welsford designed boat.

I'll be ordering my Spot soon.


Bill Becher said...

The ACR Microfix is advertised as having 100 m accuracy (no WAAS?), but apparently NOAA only got the doppler trangulation data at first, which put our location several miles from where we actually were. And the hele crew told me they had difficulty homing in on me until they saw my jacket. Signal mirrors are fine, but don't work when it's snowing.. The medic used a smoke flare (actually Navy issue has smoke on one side for day, flare for night).. don't know if there is a civi version of this, but it would be nice. Also we left a detailed route with my wife, as we were going off-trail.. File a good float plan with a friend, and always tell them where you are parking, as that's the first thing rescuers check for empty kayak racks, at least in the States, to make sure you're really missing, and not off to Vegas with your girlfriend..

Bill Becher