Personal Responsibility For Trampers

, posted: 15-Jul-2009 18:07

What is it with trampers?

Today, two so called experienced trampers were found dead in the Tararua ranges.  It seems like they simply got off the track, in the snow, in the open, and succumbed to exhaustion and cold.

We hear on the news that they were "well equipped", and yet, one would expect that if they really were well equipped they would have had with them, and used the various tools at their disposal, the most important of which is this:

A 406 Mhz Personal Locator Beacon with GPS

Here's how it works, you find yourself in a situation where by you need emergency rescue, you pull the antenna, press the button, a signal gets transmitted to a passing satellite, the message is transmitted to the Rescue Coordination Centre, they give some people a ring to make sure it's not a false alarm, and then, help comes and everybody says "thanks for not wasting everybodies time, by using your 406 it was simply a matter of going to the GPS coordinates reported and picking you up, we didn't have to mount a huge search, we didn't have to risk people's lives, we didn't have to spend thousands of dollars, and best of all, we got to you fast enough to save your life".

They are not expensive at all, a few hundred dollars, less than many people spend on their cell phone.  I believe that many tramping clubs also have them available for hire by their members.

And yet, on the news tonight we have a so-called experienced tramper (a rescue volunteer no less!) saying things like "well, when tramping we don't usually carry this kind of stuff".

In aircraft, the carriage of emergency beacons is mandatory in New Zealand.  Even in microlight's, if you are going more than 10 miles away from the airfield, you must carry a beacon, there is no option.

Why do we not have the same requirement for trampers?

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Comment by rscole86, on 15-Jul-2009 18:51

I could not agree more, especially considering the time of year. Some clubs let you hire them for free, while others charge a small fee based on the term you want one for, $50 a week or so is all we are talking about.

Comment by Bung, on 15-Jul-2009 20:00

Whilst I agree in principle the price of your sample unit seems a lot higher than your "few hundred dollars, less than many people spend on their cell phone". What is a typical price for a PLB?

Author's note by sleemanj, on 15-Jul-2009 20:11

Looking only at GPS equipped models (you can go non GPS, but the search radius is naturally bigger, and it takes longer to get a fix by doppler shift satellite triangulation, so I wouldn't get one without GPS personally).

In NZ from Aviation Safety,
 XS3 is $959
 MT410G is $859

In NZ from Safety & Rescue,
 ACR ResQFix is $759

Of course, TradeMe also has listings

Comment by rscole86, on 15-Jul-2009 22:35

You can get them from Trig Instruments for only $705 (MT410G)

Author's note by sleemanj, on 15-Jul-2009 22:47

That's plus GST, but still a pretty sharp price.

Comment by boby55, on 15-Jul-2009 23:53

These are $5 a day to rent from DOC so if people don't want to fork out for one of these they should atleast hire one.

Whenever I go tramping I have one of these.

Comment by Simon, on 16-Jul-2009 08:54

I agree totally as it sounds on the face of it that this tradgedy could have been averted.  It looks to me like these so called "experienced" trampers think they are bulletproof and think they are above needing emergency equipment.  In particular that idiot rescue volunteer on the TV last night who said "well, when tramping we don't usually carry this kind of stuff".

Comment by wellygary, on 16-Jul-2009 10:43

To be Honest, I suspect that a GPS EPirb would have not helped save their lives in this situation.

Even if they had activated it on saturday night when they "got lost" the weather conditions at the time prevented any helicopter access to the alpine area, meaning that help was at least a 5 hour walk in, (+ 1 or two hours to get the rescue party arranged and drive to the track end)

It is being reported that survival would be measured in hours rather than days in those conditions.

The southern crossing is not a dangerous track per say, and I have done the trip these two were attempting at least 5 times, (twice in winter)

The area they were on is very exposed, and they were on the  steepest part of the track, just before the top of the range flattens out, once they had gotten to the tops, it is an easy walk to the hut.

IMHO they made a bad decision to keep climbing up toward the hut, when it may have been better to turn around and head down for some shelter, but we will never know what the actual events were.

This is a tragic event,

Adventures into the outdoors will always brings about some risk, and while technology can reduce this, it is up to individuals to mange this themselves.

An Epirb would have reduced the need for search teams to check the other huts and tracks in the area they may have retreated to,  but I imagine the intentions book would have spelled out what their route was, and they were found relatively quickly once teams were able to get access to the alpine areas.

Epirbs are a useful item to have, especially in areas where terrain is deceptive, heavily bushed and remote,

This track was well defined, open and well used, and their route would have been well indicated.

Comment by cyberhub, on 20-Jul-2009 10:28

General Rant you put forward a very good argument.  People should be prepared in the outdoors.  However, when ever you go into the outdoors you are always putting yourself in a risky situation. 

That is part of the adventure or lure of the outdoors.  Trying to artificially force people to carry a Personal Locator Beacon I think would reduce this and thus would be a greater tradgedy.

It is my understanding that the highest cause of death for trampers is river drownings.  So it would be more appropriete to require trampers to carry life jackets (they are cheaper than personal locator beacons).  Of course this is a ridiculas example but it is to point out that forcing this type of safetly equipment onto trampers will not work.

Every time you go tramping you risk your life and it is a risk that trampers are prepared to take, just like every time you drive your car you are risking your life but it is a risk you are prepared to take.

Author's note by sleemanj, on 20-Jul-2009 12:29

It's not just about saving lives though cyberhub, not even just about saving your own life.

When a large search needs to be conducted this costs very large amounts of time, money and man power.  There have certainly been instances where searchers are injured or killed "in the line of duty", this increases cost and hardship to an incalculable scale.

One person going missing without a beacon activation can cause an enormous chain of cost and potential misery.

Perhaps New Zealand needs to rethink the Government/ACC funded search & rescue/recovery when there is no beacon carried.

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James Sleeman
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