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This Time, the SPOT Alert Was Real, Leading Grand Canyon National Park Rangers to Man With Broken Leg


This time the signal from SPOT really was sent seeking aid with a medical emergency, alerting Grand Canyon National Park rangers to a man with a fractured leg deep in the canyon.

The last time we heard about SPOT -- a device that can transmit an emergency signal to authorities -- and the Grand Canyon, it involved some backcountry travelers who really didn't need help. This time, though, the man had multiple fractures and wasn't going to walk out of his location in Elves Chasm, which is about 30 miles downriver from Phantom Ranch, according to the Park Service. The chasm consists of a series of waterfalls and pools in a high-walled canyon, the agency said.

Early Friday afternoon authorities were alerted that help was needed when a 911 activation from SPOT was received. A second activation at the same location was reported approximately 30 minutes later, according to park officials.

"At the time of these activations, the park’s helicopter was unable to respond due to high winds and poor visibility, so a plane already in the air on another mission was dispatched to fly reconnaissance over the area. About an hour later, dispatch received a satellite phone report from a private river trip leader advising that a 39-year-old man had fractured his lower leg in multiple places when he took a fall in Elves Chasm," a park release said. "Because their satellite phone was not getting a signal at the time, a member of the group activated the 911 function on their SPOT device. Now in contact with the group, rangers were able to work with them over the phone to consider their self-rescue options. Unfortunately, self-rescue was not possible, and weather conditions did not improve enough for the helicopter to fly that evening.

"With over-the-phone guidance from park rangers, trip members made the injured man comfortable for the evening. Early the next morning, he was lifted from Elves Chasm by short-haul (suspended on a 150-foot line below the helicopter) and transported to a flat area where he could be loaded into the helicopter and flown to the South Rim helibase. From there, he was transported by ground ambulance to Flagstaff Medical Center. Although there has recently been a great deal of publicity about 911 activations of SPOT devices for non-emergencies, this situation exemplifies the value of these devices when used appropriately in emergency situations."


Hi Kurt,

Re your first sentence, I think you should emphasize that it was the *person* using the SPOT device that did their job this time, in contrast to the previous Grand Canyon incident you referred to. The SPOT device performed identically in both cases.

There have been incidents where the SPOT device was at fault (e.g. false alarm from an unprotected alert button that got pressed inside a pack), but that's a different issue. Performance issues with SPOT can be solved by an engineering redesign, but the much larger problem of SPOT misuse will require a social fix.

Good catch, ranger. We have an opening for copyeditors if you've got some free time!

I'll reword it.


you are right on the money regarding the social fix. As a SAR operator in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, I can attest to the fact that the misuse of the SPOT has become a serious issue with agencies across the country. I recently viewed a commercial website that markets outdoor gear, (including SPOT), and their slogan of "Gear UP and Get Out" was proudly displayed. What ever happened to the "Learn how to stay alive" aspect of the process! In addition, per state laws, state and local agencies in most states are prohibited from charging even for the "Well it was getting dark and I didn't want to have to walk all the way back to my car" call I received over the Thanksgiving weekend. One of three SPOT calls I have responded to, with the other two relating to the device not being able to transmit the "Here I Am" message from a narrow canyon and under cover of pine trees. Time to get back to basics and stop relying on gadgets!

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