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The Case for PLBs

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Re: The Case for PLBs

Postby kenmabon@hotmail.com » Tue Jul 25, 2017 9:19 am

Loved your article. Agree with you on all levels. Common sense and responsible precautions, if not for ourselves, then surely for others should rule the day. Be the one who can signal for immediate help for someone else you may come across. Maybe we'll meet on a trail someday and share some jerky
Ken Mabon, Tulare county sheriff 's office, SAR chaplain
kenmabon@hotmail.com
Btw, weaver lake in the Jennie lakes wilderness is loaded with brookies



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Re: The Case for PLBs

Postby BSquared » Tue Jul 25, 2017 5:52 pm

Nice to get such great confirmation from someone in the trenches! Thanks! I'll be taking my new InReach into the wilderness for the firs time this week... ;)
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Re: The Case for PLBs

Postby maverick » Tue Jul 25, 2017 5:57 pm

Looking forward to reading about your experience with it B2. :nod:
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I don't give out specific route information, my belief is that it takes away from the whole adventure spirit of a trip, if you need every inch planned out, you'll have to get that from someone else.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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ACR PLB-375 ResQLink

Postby maverick » Thu Jun 14, 2018 1:48 pm

Just read a recent report about the ACR PLB-375 ResQLink which is kind of disturbing.

Patric W wrote 5/20/18:
I activated this device on a boating trip in Lake Powell after I struck a submerged rock, sunk my boat, and became stranded on a remote stretch of shoreline with no cell service, about 35 miles or an hour by boat from the nearest Ranger station capable of dispatching a rescue party. I hailed ‘Mayday’ on my radio and the national parks emergency service responded immediately. I was able to tell them the nature of my emergency and my last known location, but my radio died on contact with the water before I could report my exact GPS coordinates. I activated the beacon in order to transmit my location to emergency responders and waited in hypothermic conditions for nearly 3 hours until I was able to signal a passing good samaritan with a road-side flare. The two boaters took me a few miles down the lake to their houseboat where we could get a cell signal and call the rangers office to inquire about the rescue effort. To our surprise, the ranger's office indicated they had received no notice of a distress call from a personal locator beacon, but they would send a ranger to our location immediately. Almost exactly an hour later, the ranger`s boat arrived to take me back to my car. The next morning I called my family to tell them the news since, even though all of their numbers are listed in the device`s registration as emergency contacts, they had clearly never received a call about my beacon having been activated. I then noticed a voicemail on my cell phone. It was from the Air Force Rescue time stamped the night before about 45 minutes after I had activated the beacon. I have transcribed that voicemail below, word-for-word, so you may understand the reality of what will actually happen if you ever have to activate this device, and how catastrophically negligent the response will be:

“Hi, good evening, this is Sergeant Littrel with the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center. I`m calling in regards to a distress beacon signal, a personal locator beacon signal that we`ve detected via satellite that appears to be on the upper Lake Powell area, if you could please call us back at your earliest convenience toll-free 1-800-851-3051 and just reference case number 3252, we're just attempting to verify if anyone is actually in distress or not, thank you.”

This is the only tangible action I know of that occurred in response to my distress signal… “Call us back…if anyone is actually in distress or not….” I don`t know how I`ll ever be able to comprehend how a person could let those words fall from their mouth and think… ‘Well that's taken care of.' Over the past few weeks I’ve spoken to several ‘higher ranking' individuals at the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, NOAA, and the US Coast Guard, and despite the deliberate attempts to confuse, complicate the details, or redirect blame to another party, I have learned the following:

- My device functioned correctly and the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and the NOAA detected the distress signal within 5 minutes and were able to successfully retrieve my device's location and registration information.

- The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center left the above transcribed voicemail on my cell phone, which they claim occurred immediately but the voicemail is time stamped 44 minutes after the device was activated.

- NONE of my listed emergency contacts were notified.

- Both parties claim to be “ask-not-act” entities which are merely tasked with passing the distress information along to the appropriate parties but have no accountability or responsibility for coordinating a successful rescue effort. “They're doing this out of the goodness of their hearts” I cynically proposed and an operator at the NOAA essentially indicated was correct. Once they contacted the Utah Department of Emergency, their task was complete… time to go home.

- The Utah Department of Emergency claims they have NO RECORD OF MY DISTRESS BEACON BEING ACTIVATED. They were aware of the initial Mayday distress call I had made with my VHF marine radio, but they never received my updated location after my radio went dead so the rangers they had dispatched spent three hours searching blindly and checking constantly for a location update, just a few miles up the lake…too far to have ever found me in time.

- Neither the Air Force nor the NOAA ever followed up to confirm if there was an emergency or if it had been resolved.

- Both parties acted according to policy and accept no fault or error in these policies or the way they were carried out in this instance.

Long story short… if you activate this device, you'll be lucky to get a courteous sounding voicemail on your dead cell phone. As for signaling rescue? It's basically a $300 low-visibility strobe light. If you're looking for something to save your life in an emergency…you know, give you the opportunity to walk your daughter down the aisle, or bury the hatchet with that old friend you had the falling out with, or whatever else makes your life worth continuing… spend the extra $30/month for the satellite messenger that requires the active service plan, but WILL ACTUALLY SAVE YOUR LIFE when you need it. And buy some flares! There are lots of smart ways to cut costs, but this one may get you killed...
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I don't give out specific route information, my belief is that it takes away from the whole adventure spirit of a trip, if you need every inch planned out, you'll have to get that from someone else.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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Re: The Case for PLBs

Postby BSquared » Thu Jun 14, 2018 3:16 pm

Here are a couple of tales from this week's Weekly National Park System Report that might make us all feel a bit more secure. Note the successful use of an InReach in one instance and a PLB in the other:
Denali National Park
Rangers Conduct Two Successful Mountain Rescues

Rangers conducted two separate mountain rescues during the next-to-last week of May. The two rescues were the third and fourth of the season.

In the first rescue on May 20th, a party of two climbers was hit by falling rock and ice debris while rappelling the Mini-Moonflower climbing route on a sub-peak of Mount Hunter. The climbers used an InReach device to alert rangers. Even though one of the climbers had a broken arm and significant cuts, the two were able to get to the base of the route on their own, where the injured climber was evacuated by helicopter.

That same day, a separate party of two fell off the narrow ridge near 16,500 feet on the West Buttress Route. The climbers were roped together but were not using snow anchors. Other climbers saw the fall and reported it to the park. The two fell about 1,000 feet into a crevasse on the Peters Glacier, where they were not visible from the ridge above.

The two were able to activate a personal locator beacon. When a park ranger responded to the site of the fall, though, visibility deteriorated and the flight had to turn back.

Before sunrise on May 21st, as a rescue team was prepared to leave camp, one of the fallen climbers arrived at the camp with an injured knee. The man reported that his climbing partner was injured and unable to make it to camp but that she was alert and stable on the glacier.

The rescue crew made it to the woman; she was evacuated by helicopter to Talkeetna after rangers determined that a short-haul to base camp was too risky as the weather closed in.

Ranger say that it was because of the climbers’ communication capabilities and self-sufficiency that such a happy outcome was possible.

Source: KTUU News.
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Re: The Case for PLBs

Postby AlmostThere » Thu Jun 14, 2018 3:17 pm

Over the last year or so I've experimented a little more with this, and had an experience that has guaranteed that I will be setting aside/recycling my ACR at the end of the battery's lifespan.

I rented a satellite phone, one of the Iridium models as i recall, and used it to help coordinate a group in Humboldt county, as there were multiple cars of people heading up there. As well as for the actual trail. We never got the group to regroup -- messages sent by other people's cell phones (mine is Tmobile, which is off topic but let's just say it's the ****iest of the providers when it comes to travel outside urban areas, it pretends to work up there every once in a while, but messages never got where they were supposed to go, at all) and texts from the sat phone were hugely delayed, and not time stamped, and real time communication didn't happen once. I even attempted to call someone. My boyfriend attempted to call me and then got a call from Tmobile explaining that we had no international calls on our cell plan (all sat phones have international numbers and you use the country code to call them) and a HUGE upcharge on our bill, just because he wanted to test it out. My general impression of functionality of the phone ranged from "pathetic" to "I should get a refund."

Last year I was sitting at home at my computer doing routine paperwork, and got an email. From some guy, claiming to be in some department of the Chilean government. He wanted to know if my ACR beacon was activated. SO I am suspicious, because -- whole list of reasons. Because phishing schemes don't generally come to me with info on whether or not i have a PLB, I responded and said, no, but I hope that if there is an active beacon that you send somebody out there instead of emailing ME.

Chain of emails later, I am on the phone with NOAA. They give me a phone number for some office of the Air Force. I talk to a guy for a while about the situation. I look at my beacon and realize the last sticker (you re-register every couple of years) has that private space program in the space where my name goes on it.

DING DING DING. You have a database issue mister!!!! Go rescue those people, dammit.

I got a new sticker with my name on it for my beacon after they fixed the error.

No longer have much faith in an entity that EMAILS to respond to an activated beacon. WTF x 1,000,000. REALLY? :mad:

I have an InReach Mini on order, not as a PLB, but as a backup to the high band radio I use while on trail crew. We log our route plans and work detail with the FS to coordinate all the work and get approval before going out there, check in every day with the radio, but there are dead spots out there, so being able to text another member of our crew and have them phone the FS keeps us in touch, and if we can't get through that way, and are overdue, they'll send someone out there to get us. We'll use the SOS feature if we have to, but still not going to 100% trust it, because I just never will. Too much inconsistency observed over the years in these things, and don't have faith in battery operated anything.
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Re: The Case for PLBs

Postby maverick » Thu Jun 14, 2018 4:10 pm

Over the last year or so I've experimented a little more with this, and had an experience that has guaranteed that I will be setting aside/recycling my ACR at the end of the battery's lifespan.

I rented a satellite phone, one of the Iridium models as i recall, and used it to help coordinate a group in Humboldt county, as there were multiple cars of people heading up there. As well as for the actual trail. We never got the group to regroup -- messages sent by other people's cell phones (mine is Tmobile, which is off topic but let's just say it's the ****iest of the providers when it comes to travel outside urban areas, it pretends to work up there every once in a while, but messages never got where they were supposed to go, at all) and texts from the sat phone were hugely delayed, and not time stamped, and real time communication didn't happen once. I even attempted to call someone. My boyfriend attempted to call me and then got a call from Tmobile explaining that we had no international calls on our cell plan (all sat phones have international numbers and you use the country code to call them) and a HUGE upcharge on our bill, just because he wanted to test it out. My general impression of functionality of the phone ranged from "pathetic" to "I should get a refund."

Last year I was sitting at home at my computer doing routine paperwork, and got an email. From some guy, claiming to be in some department of the Chilean government. He wanted to know if my ACR beacon was activated. SO I am suspicious, because -- whole list of reasons. Because phishing schemes don't generally come to me with info on whether or not i have a PLB, I responded and said, no, but I hope that if there is an active beacon that you send somebody out there instead of emailing ME.

Chain of emails later, I am on the phone with NOAA. They give me a phone number for some office of the Air Force. I talk to a guy for a while about the situation. I look at my beacon and realize the last sticker (you re-register every couple of years) has that private space program in the space where my name goes on it.

DING DING DING. You have a database issue mister!!!! Go rescue those people, dammit.

I got a new sticker with my name on it for my beacon after they fixed the error.

No longer have much faith in an entity that EMAILS to respond to an activated beacon. WTF x 1,000,000. REALLY? :mad:

I have an InReach Mini on order, not as a PLB, but as a backup to the high band radio I use while on trail crew. We log our route plans and work detail with the FS to coordinate all the work and get approval before going out there, check in every day with the radio, but there are dead spots out there, so being able to text another member of our crew and have them phone the FS keeps us in touch, and if we can't get through that way, and are overdue, they'll send someone out there to get us. We'll use the SOS feature if we have to, but still not going to 100% trust it, because I just never will. Too much inconsistency observed over the years in these things, and don't have faith in battery operated anything.


:eek: :(

Well, another ringing endorsement for the use of the Reconn Form, or at least something similar to it. This just shows again, that electronic emergency devices should be only "One" of our redundant back-ups in case of an emergency, and if one relies on it solely, it could end up in ones demise because it includes not only an electronic, but also human element too!
Professional Sierra Landscape Photographer

I don't give out specific route information, my belief is that it takes away from the whole adventure spirit of a trip, if you need every inch planned out, you'll have to get that from someone else.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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Re: The Case for PLBs

Postby longri » Thu Jun 14, 2018 5:35 pm

As disturbing as those two anecdotes are one must place them in context. Nothing works 100% of the time and anyone with a PLB ought to understand that. The fact the mechanism of failure in these cases is bureaucratic instead of mechanical or electrical or whatever is really beside the point.

Recycle your ACR if you feel that strongly but unless there are reliable statistics that indicate PLB activation fails an unacceptable percentage of the time they remain a valuable tool.
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Re: The Case for PLBs

Postby AlmostThere » Thu Jun 14, 2018 6:55 pm

So the two - TWO - cases in this thread where the ACR triggered not an immediate rescue, but a means of contact where the distressed person would not be reached at all, do not disturb you sufficiently? Something is going on not in the device, but in the way the emergency is handled by agencies you expect to be more concerned than to email?

I don't anticipate needing them myself at all. But if my loved one is having a severe case of HAPE, and they are emailing me, you can bet I am not interested in supporting or depending the system behind that any longer/more than necessary. I'll text someone that I know will activate the local system on my behalf. It's less risk than waiting for internet service so I can check my email. It is not a matter of user error, or device error - it is a matter of UNACCEPTABLE PROCEDURES on the part of the people at the other end of that button press, that concerns me more than anything else. The last thing you or I or anyone else needs when you are sitting somewhere without cell service or internet is a voicemail or an email.
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Re: The Case for PLBs

Postby bobby49 » Thu Jun 14, 2018 9:52 pm

The major differing factor between PLBs and something like an inReach is dramatic. A PLB transmits an emergency signal outbound, and that is the end of it. If the rescue satellite is failing, or if the monitoring agency gets fouled up, then effectively you get nothing. No rescue!

The inReach device can also do that much, transmit an emergency signal outbound, but that is not the end of it. If some monitoring agency gets the message, but if they are not sure about it, then they can reply directly back to the inReach device to inquire. Further, the individual in trouble can send out a routine message to some trusted family member explaining the situation. Then that trusted family member can contact the appropriate rescue agency.

The two-way capability allows the individual in trouble and the rescue agency to discuss the situation (in short text messages) to determine the necessary speed of rescue. "We can't get a helicopter in there today. Can you hang on until morning?"
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