Joe Hiscock and his son were looking forward to one of their regular hunting trips to their cabin outside of Burgeo, a rural town situated on the south coast of Newfoundland. Located well off the beaten track with no accessible roads for the last 35 kilometres, the only way in and out of the property is by private helicopter. Snowmobiles are also used in winter months.
It was around dinner time on Monday, September 28th 2015 when Joe and his son were dropped off by private helicopter at the cabin. Their scheduled return pick up was planned for the following Friday. On Tuesday morning at day break, the pair headed out on their first day of hunting for rock ptarmigan (grouse). After walking 13 kilometres, Joe began to experience sharp abdominal pains so he and his son decided it would be best to return to the cabin until it passed. As the afternoon wore on, Joe’s pain continued to worsen and he began to worry that it could be appendicitis. His remote location, plus the fact that the scheduled pick up was still days away, heightened his worry.
Very quickly Joe’s excursion had turned serious, if not life threatening.
Canada is a country of spectacular natural wonder.
We're home to the world's longest coastline, over 3 million lakes, 39 heritage rivers, spectacular mountain ranges, barren tundra, sun-soaked prairie and rugged wilderness. Azure lakes, cragged peaks, mystic islands, a snow-blanketed north and four distinct seasons beckon to us. It's little wonder we're a people who love spending time in nature.
While we may wander into the woods or paddle into pocketed coastlines to find serenity, despite our best intentions accidents do happen. And without access to a vital line of communications, when venturing either on or off the cellular grid, the smallest of mishaps can quickly turn deadly. Hikers go missing on trails overlooking Vancouver's bright city lights; sleds in Alberta drift into snowstorms; kayakers meet cavernous swells off the Maritimes; and road travel can turn deadly on remote stretches Canadian highway or in the back country where cellular networks are either unreliable or are total dead zones. Sure, we like getting off the grid for the weekend, but we always intend to return home.
The saddest part is the unremarkable or less than sensational nature of most accidents. It's paradoxical: people aren't planning for the accident they will have. But Joe’s story isn’t a tragic one.
To dig further into the nature of outdoor distress and how to promote our own personal safety, we asked Globalstar Canada, distributors of SPOT satellite devices, about the trends they’re seeing in the rescue calls prompted by SPOT users. Here’s what their stats reveal*:
*Since being introduced in 2007, SPOT satellite devices have been used to initiate more than 4,000 rescues around the world; approximately 25% (1,100 and counting) of rescues have been initiated in Canada. The SPOT family of satellite devices, which includes the SPOT GPS Satellite Messenger, SPOT Trace and the SPOT Global Phone, provides users the ability to track assets, use location-based messaging and to call or signal for help beyond the boundaries of cellular with reliable satellite-based technology. This new Infographic is published by Globalstar Canada Satellite Co., the leader in satellite messaging and emergency notification technologies.
What surprised us the most?
First, that way less of Canada is covered by mobile cellular networks than you think, meaning you’re probably overestimating the reliability of your smartphone in an emergency situation.
Second, that SPOT devices are used to initiate rescues at a rate of approximately two per day around the world, with 25% of all SPOT rescues initiated in Canada. If that seems alarming, consider that many adventurers are heading off grid without reliable communications in the first place.
You can certainly be under-prepared, but you can’t be over-prepared for an accident. Before venturing into unknown waters, leaving home on a spontaneous summer holiday or venturing out into the backcountry, ask yourself: Are you able to make a call for help with or without the availability of cellular networks? Are you able to help yourself? What about others?
And what about Joe?
As Joe’s symptoms continued to escalate, his son urged him to use SPOT to send out a call for help. Joe decided to wait until about 10 p.m. when he was unable to withstand the pain any longer. He decided it was time to get help and so he pressed the SOS button on his SPOT device. Within 20 minutes, the local RCMP detachment was on the phone with Joe’s wife back home, confirming Joe’s location at the cabin. Shortly after that, a helicopter was dispatched to the area based on the GPS coordinates transmitted by Joe’s SPOT. Due to the heavy fog in the area, the helicopter had to circle, making several attempts before it could land safely. In the early morning hours when visibility improved, the helicopter was able to land and Joe was immediately airlifted to a nearby hospital where he received emergency medical treatment for an abdominal infection complicated by kidney stones.
A couple of weeks after being discharged from the hospital, Joe continues to recover at home. He is grateful for the outcome and his rescue, and says without hesitation that “everybody who goes out in the woods should have a SPOT. It could save their life. It saved mine.”
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