I live in the Blue Mountains, a mere hour’s drive from the centre of the most populous city in Australia. This close proximity to civilisation fools many tourists into thinking it’s not a terribly dangerous nor isolated place. In actual fact, one only has to get a few tens of metres off bushwalking tracks before finding one’s self in a situation where a rescue may require days of searches by the NSW SES and victims possibly requiring winch-out by helicopter.
If you look at a map of the Blue Mountains, you’ll find areas named ‘The Devil’s Wilderness‘ and ‘The Blue Labrynth.’ You might glean from the names of these places that getting lost is rather easy. Several bushwalkers become lost in the Blue Mountains every year. Deaths from hypothermia and exposure, notably in winter, are not uncommon. With winter overnight temperatures hovering around 0-5C (32-41F), an underprepared bushwalker will only last 2-3 days.
British backpacker Jamie Neale appears to have dodged a bullet after spending an astonishing 12 days wandering around Mt Solitary near Katoomba, not far from where young David Iredale’s body was found in December, 2006. Neale claims to have survived by eating leaves and seeds. While I’m very glad Mr Neale was found alive and looking relatively unharmed to boot, he really should have carried an emergency locator beacon.
Blue Mountains bushwalkers can borrow an Emergency Locator Transmitter for free from Katoomba Police and Blackheath NPWS or hire one for a nominal cost for use in many popular bushwalking areas across Australia. It is important that old style analogue 121.5MHz beacons are not used. AMSA ceased monitoring them by satellite on 1 February 2009. 121.5MHz is an aircraft emergency communications frequency and is now only monitored by high-flying passenger airliners, meaning detection may take hours or days and the resolution of location is very poor compared to 406MHz+GPS units, meaning a very large search area for rescuers. The new 406MHz beacons with integrated GPS automatically transmit a distressed person’s location to rescuers with an accuracy of 120 metres and usually within minutes, without the victim having to explain where they are to an emergency services operator as one must do when trying to contact emergency services with a mobile phone, which was a very big problem for poor David Iredale. There are non-GPS 406MHz beacons available, but while less expensive to purchase, these only have a resolution of 5km and may require 2 passes of a satellite over the area to get even that close. You’re easiest to find with a 406MHz+GPS beacon.
You don’t need to get lost to need a beacon, though. The rough terrain of the Blue Mountains means it’s all too easy to slip and fall, even on the marked trails. A simple twisted ankle can render a bushwalker unable to get off the trails before nightfall.
Don’t be stupid. Register your bushwalking plans with NSW Police at Katoomba… and borrow a beacon!
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