An innovative new method of rescue technology was used for the first time by Galway Mountain Rescue last week, when the organisation pinpointed the location of a trapped group of tourists using a smartphone.
Galway Mountain Rescue were first contacted in relation to the incident by gardaí in Clifden at 5pm on Saturday 29 December, who informed them that a group of hillwalkers were trapped on Tully Mountain near Letterfrack.
The group of three tourists had been walking on the mountain since lunchtime and had become trapped by deteriorating weather conditions. The team responded immediately and were able to pinpoint the location of the group using the smartphone-based SARLOC system.
Rescuers were dispatched to the location near the summit of the mountain and the stranded hillwalkers were treated at the scene for hypothermia before being evacuated by foot. Conditions in the area were poor with high winds and heavy showers.
The rescue marked the first time that the SARLOC system, created by Russ Hore of the Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue Team in Wales, was used by Galway Mountain Rescue and allows rescue teams to harness the power of modern smartphones when searching for lost hillwalkers.
The system works with all popular brands of phone that have a built-in GPS and an active 3G data connection, which no requirement for a pre-installed app. The rescue team send a link via text message, which interrogates the hillwalker’s phone and relays its 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 walker before leaving base. However, as it does rely on having 3G mobile phone coverage, its use can be limited by terrain.
“This was the first time that we have used this system in a real incident in Connemara and it worked perfectly,” said Galway Mountain Rescue Team Leader Alan Carr.