SOS beacon picked up in Houston, USA helps in rescue of unwell man in Scotland

Prestwick SAR Coastguard helicopter. Credit Tim Wallace.
An unwell man living in a very remote area of Scotland was rescued by HM Coastguard helicopter after his distress signal was picked up in Houston, Texas.

The gentleman – in his mid-70s – normally activates his SPOT beacon in a ‘check-in’ alert mode on a Sunday to let family and friends know he is ok.  However, last Sunday (3 February) he triggered an SOS instead of the normal alert mode, potentially signifying he needed urgent assistance.  

The SOS signal was picked up by a response centre thousands of miles away at the International Emergency Response Coordination Centre (IERCC) in Houston USA, which in turn notified HM Coastguard Mission Control Centre (MCC) in Fareham, Hampshire on Sunday just before 6pm.

The dilemma for HM Coastguard’s MCC and the Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre (ARCC) was whether the SOS function been used accidentally when the gentleman simply intended to check in with family and friends as usual.

Without any other means to get in contact with the man to find out if the SOS was intentional or not, HM Coastguard decided to send the Prestwick Coastguard helicopter to the man’s remote Scottish cabin to check if he was ok. 

When the Coastguard Winchman was winched down and made his way to the man’s cabin they found that he was indeed very ill and needed medical assistance. The helicopter was unable to winch close enough to the man’s cabin so Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team were called in to help move the casualty to a more suitable location for winching. 

Once onboard the helicopter he was flown to Torlundy for onward transfer to hospital by land ambulance.   

Neil Blewett, UK Aeronautical Operations Centre Controller for HM Coastguard said “This is an excellent result thanks to the vigilance of our MCC and ARCC not putting it down to an ordinary check alert. 

‘When the man activated his beacon that signal went via satellite to Houston, which then gets sent to our MCC for attention.  What must seem a very long way round for an alert to reach us is actually very quick thanks to the satellite technology that we use. 

'In this case, the man’s activation of his beacon, the satellites and the SPOT beacon itself saved his life because without any of those we would not have known he needed urgent help.  We have since heard that the man is doing well hope and we wish him a speedy recovery so that he can return home as soon as possible.’

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