Smartphone technology helps save hillwalkers

A mountain rescue team was given a helping hand during a mission in Letterfrack recently by utilising smartphone technology for the first time to locate a number of stranded hillwalkers and bring them to safety.

The Galway Mountain Rescue Team was contacted by Clifden gardai last Saturday at approximately 5pm after a group of hillwalkers made a 999 call. The three tourists had been walking on Tully Mountain, near Letterfrack, when they became trapped by deteriorating weather conditions.

Responding immediately the rescue team were able to pinpoint the exact location of the tourist using the smartphone based SARLOC system. The hillwalkers were treated at the scene for hypothermia and then evacuated by foot. Conditions in the area at the time have been described as being poor with high winds and heavy showers.

Created by Russ Hore of the Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue Team in Wales, the SARLOC system allows rescue teams to harness the power of modern smartphones and works with all popular brands of phones that have built-in GPS and an active 3G data connection. With this system there is no requirement to have an app installed in the phone - the rescue team simply send a link via text message which interfaces with the hillwalker’s phone and then relays the phone’s position directly back to the team’s live asset tracking software. In the right conditions this allows the team to pinpoint the location of the lost hillwalker before leaving the base, however its use can be limited by phone coverage in certain terrain.

Commenting on the recent mission, Galway Mountain Rescue Team leader Alan Carr said: “This was the first time that we have used this system in a real incident in Connemara and it worked perfectly. This is extremely powerful technology which can remove the need for hazardous night time searching. It allows those in need to get help faster while reducing the risks faced by the rescuers. However it has its limitations and traditional map and compass skills remain vital for those taking to the hills.”

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