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PLB Leads to Rescue

As more Personal Locator Beacons are sold, it is inevitable that more “saves” will be credited to these high tech distress beacons. Here’s the latest, a classic example where having a PLB saved time and resources and quite possibly a life. As they become more common and rangers and others become more knowledgeable about them and invest in homing equipment, it will get even easier.

Big Bend National Park (TX)
Stranded Hiker Uses PLB To Summon Help

On the evening of December 30th, the U.S. Air Force notified the park that a personal locator beacon (PLB) signal had been received from a backcountry location within the park. Rangers headed to a backcountry campsite about six miles from the coordinates given by the PLB and found a vehicle registered to a visitor who had a solo hiker permit for that zone of the park.

Two rangers then hiked to the approximate PLB coordinates, but were unable to find anyone in that area. They were joined by another team of searchers and a Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) helicopter the following morning. The crew of the helicopter homed in on the 121.5 MHz distress transmission from the PLB within minutes of arriving on scene and soon spotted the hiker, who was waving a space blanket at them.

He had “cliffed out” on the side of Elephant Tusk peak, but gave the helicopter crew a thumbs-up signal indicating that he was okay. Although the helicopter was unable to land, the crew directed searchers to the man’s location, then ferried rope and climbing equipment to the rangers on scene. They climbed to his location and helped him down.

The man told rangers that he’d attempted to climb to the top of Elephant Tusk the day before. He’d cached his backpack, tent and sleeping bag and had made the ascent carrying only a space blanket, food, water, a whistle, an LED light, and a PLB. After topping a 40-foot chimney, he decided to turn back – only to find he couldn’t climb down from his location. He spent the night on a 6-foot by 50-foot ledge wrapped in the space blanket, with his PLB tied to a bush to keep it from being blown away by high winds. Overnight temperatures were just below freezing.

This incident marks the first time in Big Bend that a PLB has been used by a hiker to call in rescuers. Without the PLB and assistance from the DPS helicopter, it would have been extremely difficult to find and rescue the man in a timely fashion. The PLB probably saved his life. [Submitted by Mark Spier, Chief Ranger]