Rescue group finds ignorant beacon owner who triggered false alarms
A frustrating two-month mystery that had baffled multiple search and rescue teams and county sheriff’s departments since early this winter was solved recently when officials discovered the source of repeated emergency false alarms emanating from the backcountry near Berthoud Pass.
Members of the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group used special “direction finding equipment” to locate the owner of a “personal locator beacon” (PLB) that had been inadvertently triggered nine times between Dec. 11, 2009, and Feb. 11 by a backcountry skier from Fraser who mistook the unit for an avalanche beacon.
According to the Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Office, the owner had no idea that every time he turned on the ACR Electronics PLB-300 MicrOFix given to him as a birthday present, a distress signal was broadcast to international satellites linked to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Air Force Rescue Coordination Center.
As a result, several law enforcement and search and rescue teams were notified and scrambled to respond to the false alarms from Berthoud Pass to Crested Butte. By the time they arrived, the unit was turned off and rescuers were left to ponder.
Rocky Mountain Rescue Group members caught a break last month when the owner — a male in his late 20s whose name was not released — left the unit turned on and drove to a doctor’s appointment in Boulder.
The Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Office began an investigation once the PLB was found. Investigators met with the owner and determined he was not aware of the consequences of turning on the beacon each time he was skiing. He faces no charges.
“He felt terrible. He just didn’t know,” said Paul “Woody” Woodward of Alpine Rescue Team. “Apparently he received it as a birthday present with a note that said, ‘Here’s an avalanche beacon. Be safe.’ And he never read the back of the box.”
Responders were able to trace the distress signals back to the same PLB, but because the unit was not registered, they had no way of contacting the owner.
“It’s more humorous now than anything,” said Woodward, adding that the units can save lives when used properly. “There are two lessons to take from this. The first is, how do we convince people to register these things? The second is: read the directions.”
To register a PLB visit: www.beaconregistration.noaa.gov.