There were people 'trapped' on an island in the middle of the Elbow River around 9 PM tonight. I'm not sure how they got on there (or, as the RCMP member said when the call was first sent to them, why they all couldn't get off the island when the one person who managed to call got off). Crews from RCMP, Calgary Police Service HAWC1, Calgary Fire Department dive teams, Cochrane EMS, Kananaskis Country Conservation Officers, and Redwood Meadows Emergency Services responded to the incident.
The helicopter landed on 66 to pick up fire divers and RCMP members to head for the island in question, which is in the middle of the backcountry halfway between the Kananaskis border and the town of Bragg Creek.
At this time, CFD, HAWC1, RCMP, RMES, and Cochrane EMS are still at scene, working on bringing the stranded parties back to shore/civilization.
This event seemed to take longer than it should. I know it was out in the bush but I think it shows that everyone that ventures out in the wilds, or anywhere, should carry a GPS. Would certainly make finding lost people a lot easier if they could call in their GPS location. There have been a couple of incidents lately where a lot of time was wasted because EMS/Police/Fire had no clue where a person was located because that person didn't know either. At least with cell phones, some have GPS that would help to narrow down where they are, or at least what cell site they were hitting. I always carry a GPS when driving or walking in the wilds. And GPS are not expensive these days. At least with HAWCS, the time to find these people was reduced. How long would it have taken if HAWCS or STARS are down?
Well, I'll say this on the understanding that this is me talking, not my department or station..
The location was given to the initial responders as 'on the river, south of the bridge at Bragg Creek'.
The ultimate location was on the river approximately 6 kilometers upstream from Bragg Creek, almost at the Kananaskis border.
Emergency crews called for HAWC1 early in the game because of the very vague location, and the helicopter found the people on their 2nd pass.
Had HAWC1 (or STARS) not been available, the next consideration would have been Alpine Helicopter out of Canmore, who does all the rescue work for Kananaskis Country. (As an aside, there are also fire helitac machines based at the former Elbow Ranger Station, now the Elbow Firebase, in K-Country.) However, most helicopter pilots/companies are very reluctant to fly into or close to the mountains anytime approaching or after sunset. At the time of this call (~9pm), I suspect Alpine would not have flown.
In any case, speaking to the greater topic you were focusing on, the issue of locating someone and/or giving good directions - I see this every day in both my jobs as a fire/rescuer and a 9-1-1 dispatcher. People will travel on Highway 1 and report their location as "20 minutes west of Calgary". Is that 20 minutes at 80kph or 120kph? 20 minutes from the city center, the "Calgary City Limit" sign, or the Petro Canada station at Hwy 22? People will report they're 15 kilometers west of Canmore, but not inside the Banff park yet. Those of you who have ever driven that stretch of road know how that is geographically impossible.
The one that tops it all for me is the truck driver that phoned 9-1-1 several years ago and said he had "just left Calgary" on Highway 8 and his truck was on fire. The cellphone signal was lost, so that's all the dispatcher had to work with; they put in the call as Highway 8 at Elbow Springs, which is the 2nd set of lights past 101 St, the actual Calgary city limits. This garnered a response of 20 Pump, from the city, and 50 Tank, from Redwood Meadows, as their water supply. As 50 Tank approached the intersection of Highways 8 and 22, they were confronted with a fully involved semi-tractor-trailer combo right at the intersection. So two people in a water tanker were trying to handle a fire that should have been attacked by minimum 4 people with a full-fledged pumper truck. The culprit here? A trucker's choice of words. To a long-haul trucker, you've "just left Calgary" until you're about heading down the hill into Field, BC.
I wholeheartedly agree that people need to give better information and location details in every way. What would be excellent is if cell phones evolved to the next stage, which they've been promising for decades - that they will provide us the location of the phone within 10 meters when they call 9-1-1. Right now, what we get, for most phones, is the address of the tower site you're hitting, and a vague direction to look in, based on which antenna of 3 or 4 you're actually connected to. So if you're hitting the southeast-facing antenna of a cell tower at 123 Main Street, that's what we get - "123 Main St, azimuth 150". No idea if you're 10 feet in front of the tower or 10 kilometers. And depending on how many antennas are on the cell site, we could be looking at anywhere from 45 to 180 degrees of 'error' in that azimuth. You might be hitting the southeast antenna, but be more east-east-southeast in nature, maybe on azimuth 114°... imagine how a few degrees' difference magnifies the further away you get from the tower.
Sorry for the rambling, tangential rant... it's late, and I'm tired. But yes, do indeed give explicit direction info. Know where you are. 9-1-1 has the ability to take a lat and long that you provide them from your GPS, and know EXACTLY where you are. Furthermore, perhaps you can even use that GPS to get yourself to civilization!