An elderly man hiking Francs Peak near Meeteetse, Wyoming, was brutally attacked by a grizzly bear during a multi-day backpacking trip. Even though the hiker had bear spray on him, it was actually his Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) that saved him. Situations like these are good examples of why you can never be over-prepared when it comes to safely while exploring the great outdoors.
The Park County Sheriff's Office received a report on the afternoon of Monday, June 28, of a possible downed aircraft from the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC). The AFRCC monitors all Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) distress signals across the U.S. and reports them to the sheriff's office in the appropriate jurisdiction. Although this ELT activation was initially perceived as a downed aircraft, Park County quickly determined that it was coming from a PLB instead. The signal was transmitting from a high elevation on Francs Peak, which summits 13,158 feet.
"Thankfully the AFRCC was diligent in their efforts to identify this signal even after it was determined to not be aircraft related," the sheriff's office explained on Facebook. "PCSAR and the Park County Sheriff's Office are grateful to all agencies participating in this joint rescue effort as it took each one of them to make this a successful operation."
Moving quickly, an SAR (Search and Rescue) Air-1, Guardian Medical helicopter, and a UH-1H Huey from Sublette County SAR were deployed to get the patient to a landing zone in Wood River where he was then transferred to a hospital in Billings, Montana.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are still conducting an investigation. Game and Fish's press release explained that although the 68-year-old backpacker from Buffalo, New York, is "an experienced out-of-state recreationist," the surprise encounter with the bear was too sudden and close range for him to use the bear spray he was carrying, resulting in the severity of his injuries. Since then, there has been no further information available on his condition. While there are no management actions being taken at this time, Game and Fish will continue to monitor bear activity in the area in the best interest of public safety.
What Are Personal Locator Beacons?
There are only so many preventative measures government departments can take. Not only should adventurers research and heed proper precautions when encountering wild animals in a certain area, but also have emergency beacons handy in worse case scenarios. Lt. Marisa P. Gedney with the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps explained to Cody Enterprises that PLBs are primarily for personal use and how those "beacons are intended to save lives."
PLBs fit in the palm of your hand and are commonly used in backcountry hiking. Gedney explained the PLBS can be turned on when users are in danger, and satellites will triangulate their positions. She said, "You can get very accurate position data. The purpose of these beacons is to provide initial indication of distress, so may be not as accurate as GPS, but gives a pretty good idea of where to search."
There's no harm in having one on your person the next time you go backpacking out in the wilderness. It actually might be the subtle tool you'll have to save your life.
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