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[at-l] Cell phones, rescues & helicopters



I appreciate the thoughtful discussion of this topic.

My experience with helicopter rescues was in the Gila Wilderness in New
Mexico, so distances to a road intersection or trailhead was considerably
different than many locations on the AT.

When the helicopter arrived to pick up our hiking partner with a broken
ankle it was not realistic to carry her out, being about 14 miles from the
nearest evacuation point on the trail by foot.  There is sometimes
consideration in the Gila of using pack mules for such rescues, but it is
seldom the most viable option.

My biggest surprise was that the Army helicopter called in for the rescue
did not have a hoist to extract the hiker from the wilderness.  They were
only able to hover overhead and lower a litter to us by rope, in order for
us to carry our partner to an area large and flat enough for the helicopter
to land.  Believe me, I learned very quickly how hard it is to carry someone
on a litter through the wilderness.  The park ranger involved in the rescue
said that the standard for such rescues is to have 10 people available to
carry the litter over the rough terrain.  It took the six of us over an hour
and a half to carry her less than one mile.

A cell phone would have been nice, we thought, and a GPS would have saved
some time, also, in helping the rescuers find our partner.  However, the
next year we did the exact same hike and found out that we had absolutely no
cell phone coverage where we were on the trail.  We also took a GPS, but
found that it was more of a fun curiosity than something which was really
helpful.  I now leave them both at home.

My point about trail injuries and cell phone usage is basically that too
many people are thinking about normal urban 911 ambulance emergencies when
they think that a cell phone will "save" them in a trail situation.  The
fact is that they are two entirely different situations.  If you are being
attacked on the trail, for instance, don't expect the police to show up in
their "rover" or helicopter to save you.  If you have a serious injury,
don't expect the rescue to happen within that critical hour after it occurs.
Just don't leave with a false sense of security for yourself (or your
parents) because you have a cell phone in your pack.
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