A Whitehorse couple accidentally sent a distress signal while hiking near Carcross last week, prompting a search by Yukon RCMP and Yukon Search and Rescue.
RCMP say that around 4 p.m. last Monday, dispatchers were advised of an S.O.S. signal from a satellite communication device.
The message contained GPS co-ordinates for an isolated mountainous area between the end of Annie Lake Road and Bennett Lake.
While RCMP attempted to locate the device’s registered owner, family members or other contact, they say no additional details were available.
Given the isolated location, the RCMP’s Divisional Search and Rescue co-ordinator organized a search party and dispatched a helicopter with Yukon Search and Rescue (SAR) volunteers on board.
Carcross RCMP were also dispatched to the Annie Lake Road area to provide support on the ground.
While the search party was en route to the location, two additional S.O.S. messages came in from the same device showing that it was moving slowly.
Then, at around 7:15 that evening, a police officer stationed at the Annie Lake Road located a Whitehorse couple driving out of the area.
The couple were unaware that they had sent an S.O.S. signal.
But upon checking their device when stopped by police, they realized gear in their pack had accidentally been hitting the S.O.S. button while they were hiking.
Yukon RCMP and Yukon SAR are taking the opportunity to remind the public to carry communication devices on their person and to ensure that contact information is up to date.
“In the event you have to drop your pack in an emergency, get separated from your group, or lose your supplies unexpectedly, having your satellite communication device, a fire-starting kit and basic safety gear on your person will give you the means to call for help and keep warm,” Cpl. Cam Long, the Yukon RCMP’s Divisional Search and Rescue co-ordinator said in a statement.
The RCMP add that other essential supplies to pack include a flashlight, navigation aids, extra food, water and clothing, first aid kit, emergency shelter, pocket knife and sun protection.
Mike Fancie, the Yukon SAR prevention co-ordinator, also said it’s important to leave a trip plan with a family member or friend before heading out into the wilderness.
“Let them know where you’re going, how long you’re expected to be there, and when you’re due back,” he recommends.
“That way, if you don’t return on time, agencies can be alerted as quickly as possible.”
So far this year, Yukon RCMP have responded to 20 search and rescue type incidents in the territory.
These can include locating a missing person or overdue hunter, responding to a distress signal from a communication device, and rescuing stranded hikers or boaters.
While accidental distress calls don’t occur regularly, RCMP say, they are not uncommon.
In recent years, accidental signals have accounted for about five per cent of search and rescue calls that Yukon RCMP receive.