How satellite technology can help lost hikers

APACHE JUNCTION, AZ - Technology can help locate those who venture off the beaten path. Satellite trackers are available from several companies. 

I have carried a SPOT satellite tracker for years and here's how it works.

To put the tracker to the test, I walked a distance from the First Water trailhead in the Superstition Mountains near where rescuers are searching for missing hiker Kenny Clark of Gilbert.

It would be up to my colleagues to send ABC15's helicopter, Air15, to find me.

There's very little cellular reception in the area, so calls to the newsroom repeatedly dropped out.

Producer Jenn Spantak and assignment editor Bryan Pahia would have to rely on information from the SPOT tracker to find me in a timely manner.

In its tracking mode, the unit sends a signal to a satellite every 10 minutes. That information can then be pulled up by anybody on the Internet and viewed on a map.

The unit can also send an alert to people you select letting them know that you are OK, or if you have a problem. 

The one I use also has an emergency mode that can send a message directly to authorities.

More advanced locators can deliver more messages, but even those have limitations.

"Even with this tool, if you're five hours late from coming home, it could still be too late," Spantak said.

As the beacon pinged away, the newsroom was able to track me.

"Desk to air, we have latitude and longitude whenever you are ready."

Eventually, Air15's camera found me, not too far from the trailhead in one piece.

"We knew the general area of where he would be. So from there, it's a matter of pinpointing where he is, but we had a very good idea of where to look," Pahia said.

Experts say technology is only a tool to supplement good planning.

They say it's important to have plenty of supplies, including water and food to last if you get into trouble, and always tell someone where you are going and when you should return.

Learn more about the SPOT locator here .

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