Travelers from Massachusetts were able to reach Colorado emergency responders for help, despite having no cell service, using the SOS Emergency Call satellite feature on their iPhone, according to the Gilpin County Sheriff's Office.
The family was traveling in a Toyota Tacoma when it became stuck in the Miners Gulch area. Kimi McBride, the public information officer for nonprofit Colorado 4x4 Rescue and Recovery, said their crews received the call from the Gilpin County Sheriff's Office around 6:30 p.m. on Christmas Day.
"They're like, 'Hey, stuck Tacoma. We don't know what's going on. We just know that people are stuck,'" McBride recalled.
The sheriff's office was short on details because the stranded travelers had no cell service and were unable to make calls. But, thanks to the SOS satellite ability on their iPhone, they were able to request help from nearby emergency responders.
"So, pro of the iPhone: we found out they needed help. Con, you don't necessarily get all the information," McBride said. "So, we weren't sure how many people were out there. We weren't sure if they had animals with them, if they had enough food, water, layers, where they were from. We didn't really know anything."
It took the search and rescue team nearly three hours from the time they received the call to reach the stranded travelers. They had tried to dig their truck out of the snow themselves, McBride said, but were struggling with Colorado's higher altitude.
"It was nighttime. They'd been out there for several hours. One of the parties had started showing symptoms of altitude sickness, so we were pretty concerned about that," McBride said.
Thankfully, the Colorado 4x4 team was able to get the stranded travelers out to safety and said they were doing well when they departed.
The search and rescue team is equipped with gear and satellite communication devices, which are tools they don't expect most travelers to have. That's why they're so thankful that smartphones are becoming more capable in remote locations.
"It's entirely a game changer," McBride said.
On an iPhone, you can make an SOS call by pushing and holding both the sleep/wake button and the volume down button, and then sliding the red "SOS" icon. On an Android phone, an emergency call can be made by pushing the power button five times or more.
This article was originally published by Rob Harris for Scripps News Denver.
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