Two lost in wilderness saved by the phone

But such instances are rare, sergeant says

PORT TOWNSEND — Technology led to the rescue of two people lost in the wilderness, but they were fortunate, according to a sheriff’s office sergeant.

“In both instances, it was imperative that they had a cellular signal,” said Sgt. Brett Anglin of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, reporting on the weekend rescues of a lost hunter and fisherman.

“That being said, that’s very uncommon in the wilderness,” he emphasized.

“We strongly suggest, at a minimum, having GPS and mapping capabilities downloaded to your phone, as well as carrying a map and compass and having the ability to use them,” he said.

And don’t rely on technology, Anglin said. It’s important to go prepared into wild areas and tell others where you are going and when you expect to be back.

Jefferson County Search and Rescue began looking at 9:30 p.m. Saturday for a hunter who called on his cellphone to say he was lost, weak, dehydrated and stuck on the side of a steep cliff near Tubal Cain.

However, he actually was located off of Tunnel Creek, about 10 miles away, Anglin said.

“It is about 10 miles as the crow flies, more using trails. It’s in a different mountain range,” the sergeant said.

“Without the cellular GPS location, we would have been looking in the completely wrong area.”

The hunter was not prepared to stay overnight outdoors, Anglin said.

“He had no food or water or supplies for camping overnight. It was just a day trip.”

The unidentified man was located safe but stranded on a cliff by two search and rescue personnel who bushwhacked through treacherous terrain to locate him, the sheriff’s office said in a press release.

He was rescued by a helicopter from Naval Air Station Whidbey Search and Rescue.

“He was unable to go up or down the cliff,” Anglin said.

“They didn’t locate him until 8:40 p.m., so about 12 hours later. They located him but were unable to get to him because he was 40 feet up a cliff,” he explained.

The helicopter was requested 15 minutes later and arrived about an hour later at 10 p.m. to find the man dehydrated and fatigued, he said.

A lost fisherman contacted authorities at 11 a.m. Sunday.

The unidentified man, who had entered the area near Quilcene near Fremont Street, said the tide was coming in and he was unable to get through the woods and marsh area, according to the press release.

“He said it was muddy terrain and he was unable to go further,” Anglin said. “He was just out fishing by himself.

“He stated he was on the south side of the Big Quilcene River. However, the GPS location showed him on the north side of the river. He did not have a lot with him,” Anglin said.

The fisherman was found safe, the sheriff’s office said.

Many technologies are available now for satellite phones, Anglin said. Jefferson County Search and Rescue uses InReach devices that provide SOS beaconing as well as simple texting from the wilderness, he said.

“It’s not uncommon not to have correct locations. When the initial call to 9-1-1 is not correct, it becomes a hindrance. So that should not be relied upon in any circumstance,” Anglin said.

Cellphone companies get an approximate location based upon the signal frequency and the tower location, Anglin said. The signal strength tells them the distance from the tower, but it generally doesn’t get an exact GPS location, he said.

“The program we use for our mapping, we send them a signal so we can get their location on a map. But it only works if the person has cellphone service, which is rare,” Anglin said.

The Washington Trails Association recommends hikers carry the 10 essentials: navigation, sun protection, insulation, illumination, first aid, fire starter, multi-tool, nutrition, hydration and emergency shelter.


Reporter Brian Gawley can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected]

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