SOS from handheld device saves man from freezing to death in Boundary Waters


This was a great outcome for a situation that may have ended up very differently. I was slightly surprised that they mentioned the Garmin inReach by name, but I am glad they did. The BWCA is big country.

A handheld emergency declaration device was all that kept a 34-year-old man from freezing to death while camping and canoeing alone deep in the northern Minnesota wilderness.

The adventurer sent out an electronic SOS from deep within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) on Saturday, and rescuers answered the call and brought the man out just in time amid temperatures in the teens, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

"It was still snowing heavily when they initially found his campsite" at Nina Moose Lake, roughly 25 miles north of Ely, said DNR spokesman Joe Albert. "Most of the clothes the man had were wet. There was a light down jacket hanging in the tree that was frozen solid."

The man, whom the St. Louis County Sheriff's Office said was from Elkhart, Ind., was suffering from hypothermia when he sent an emergency message shortly before 5 p.m. from a Garmin inReach satellite communication device.

A DNR conservation officer and County Rescue Squad members arrived by canoe to the campsite shortly after 8 p.m., well after dark, but first needed to treat the man for hypothermia before returning him to civilization.

"Rescue personnel began warming him with heat pads and then got a fire going," Albert said. "He sat near the fire, wrapped in a wool blanket, for about 90 minutes before rescuers brought him out of the wilderness."

A Sheriff's Office statement said that the man was "in good health" upon return to the landing. His identity has yet to be released.

The statement added that "the Sheriff's Office would like to remind all who venture into the BWCA to prepare for all conditions, do not take any unnecessary risks, leave an itinerary of your travel plan, and travel with a GPS or SOS device if possible in case of emergencies."

SOS Communication Devices

Great story. Many people count on cell phones to get them out of trouble when off the beaten track, but in some 30-40% of the US geographically, cell phones do not get a signal (because there's no cell tower within 10-20 miles) and cannot be used to summon help, even in large swaths of the most popular national parks.

These SOS communication devices (search on amazon to see what we're talking about) work as do Garmin/TomTom GPSes with satellites, not cell phone towers, and are more reliable in many more places than cell phones. But many of them cost about $100 and require a service contract--yet another device to buy and carry with yet another subscription--which limits their appeal for many people.

"141 could draw faster than he, but Irving was looking for 143..."

garmin inReach

This is a good story with a happy ending! grin

We have taken several trips into the wilderness by canoe in New York's Adirondacks, in weather as cold as 40 degrees F at night. There was no cell service and we were without an EPIRB, relying on ourselves after logging in when entering the wild area.

Does the Garmin InReach transmit a signal to a satellite like an EPIRB does? Who on the ground receives the emergency signal to alert authorities nearby? That is the other part of the story - that local authorities were ready to act immediately!

dobs108 smile

InReach and Spot

Yes, transmits to a satellite, that repeats it to a ground station, and processes it according to the message.

My experience is with Spot, a similar concept, but simpler in that it can just transmit 4 different pre canned messages. InReach allows you to message, and give more detail on your situation.

To dobs108's point about "local authorities ready to act", I had an interesting talk with a lady who had used the Spot SOS once, on the Appalachian Trail in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, when she broke her leg. It took about a day to get help. The park rangers have gotten weary of responding to people who send an SOS at night because they get cold, and then are gone when the rangers get there in the morning. She had to send it a couple of times, then finally they came in with a uni-wheel stretcher and brought her out.