SEARCH & RESCUE IN THE SNOWY MOUNTAINS

To assist with locating people in need of rescue in the Kosciuszko National park the National Parks and Wildlife Service has Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRB) for hire. This description of the technology used will assist outback travellers to understand what an EPIRB can do, itís limitations and how to use it in an emergency.

Information is correct as of July 2000 and applies to the GME EPIRB model MT310 as supplied by the NPWS.

Who should carry an EPIRB?

Hiking, walking, skiing and snow boarding in backcountry mountain and bush areas can be hazardous. Mobile phones are usually out of range in the area and batteries may fail.  HIKERS,  SKIERS  and  SNOWBOARDERS  going off the beaten track for a day or more will be able to summon aid in an emergency situation if they have an EPIRB.

What is an EPIRB?

An EPIRB is a radio distress beacon that can be activated in an emergency to transmit continuos radio signals on the frequencies of 121.5MHz and 243 MHz simultaneously. These signals can be detected by any commercial or RAAF aircraft within range and line of sight, and reported immediately. The signals can also be detected by orbiting satellites and the signal relayed back to earth where the signal is passed directly to the Rescue Coordination Centre (AusSAR) in Canberra.

When the signal is received by AusSAR details are passed to the Police Service which is responsible for coordinating Search and Rescue operations in NSW.

When to activate your EPIRB

Do NOT activate your EPIRB if help can be summoned safely and quicker by any other means. Does your mobile phone work? Warm your phone with body heat for best battery operation. Can you get to the top of a mountain to get a phone signal. Can someone ski or walk out for help? Can a nearby group assist?

An EPIRB must ONLY be activated in an emergency situation. 

Such situations include:

  • Medical emergency necessitating urgent evacuation
  • Being lost with little hope of reaching outside assistance before food and water supplies are exhausted.
  • Any situation that could be life threatening.

Once activated the unit must be left on and the party should remain at the same location until rescue occurs.

Do NOT activate the EPIRB for minor injuries such as blisters or sprains that make movement painful but not impossible, or running out of porridge when you have other food, or being a day or two late returning if there is no danger to anybody. Use it responsibly as the receipt of an EPIRB signal always triggers a search that is costly and can endanger the safety of personnel involved.

What happens when the EPIRB is activated?

Do not expect an instant response. There will be a delay of some hours before help can arrive and it may not be the same day. The delay may be longer in bad weather.

The EPIRB tells the satellite and the satellite tells the tracking station and it tells AusSAR. However it may take 2 hours for a satellite to pass overhead and pick up your signal. The signal is only located within 20km, although with each additional pass of the satellite a grid is established that locates the position more accurately. The signal from your EPIRB does not identify you so at this stage AusSAR does not know who they are looking for.

AusSAR tells the Police and they tell the NPWS. A land and air search is planned and coordinated. An air search can pinpoint the location of the EPIRB more accurately. If weather or cloud conditions are unfavourable a helicopter rescue is not possible and at that time only a ground search can be undertaken. A large area has to be searched to narrow the search area to your location. At this point NPWS will know how many EPIRBís have been hired and their proposed location. If you have purchased your own EPIRB you should notify NPWS on each occasion that you will take it into the back country.

ASSIST YOUR RESCUERS by setting up crossed skis as a signal and if possible light a fire, trample snow or set out coloured clothing. During a trip leave notes of your progress in the log book if you pass a hut.

The GME EPIRB MT310

This pocket size unit weighs 175 grams and comes in a protective carry case. It is fitted with long life Lithium batteries that will power the unit for a minimum of 48 hours at temperatures down to Ė100C. It has a self test facility that can be used to check that the unit will function and has a flashing LED and audio alert to indicate that the unit is transmitting. The unit has a safety seal that will prevent accidental activation and it has a guaranteed battery storage life of 5 years.

To operate the unit in an emergency.

Push down the yellow switch and slide it across the top of the EPIRB and in doing so breaking the safety seal. Extend the antenna and place the unit in the open, as clear of solid obstructions as possible. The unit is weatherproof but if it is snowing tie the unit to a ski stuck in the snow so that the antenna will not be buried in snow. Leave it turned on until rescued.

What if you accidentally activate the EPIRB?

Reduce the chance of accidental activation by stowing the unit where it will be free from sudden shock or damage, educate travelling companions about it and do not fiddle with it and keep children away from the unit. If accidentally activated,  SWITCH OFF IMMEDIATELY and contact AusSAR on 1800 641 792 or local Police or NPWS staff on 1800 629 104 as soon as possible.

REMEMBER that carrying an EPIRB does NOT guarantee the safety of a person. The response time to an EPIRB signal may take several hours or even one or more days depending on the weather conditions. It is a valuable aid to an expedition that is properly planned and equipped. It is essential that full details of your trip are left with a relative or friend from home or work who can notify Police if you are overdue. Print out this page and distribute to members of your party so that they understand the part that an EPIRB will play in the event of an emergency.

WHERE TO HIRE A PERSONAL EPIRB

An EPIRB can be hired from NPWS visitor centres during office hours at Jindabyne, Perisher Valley, Khancoban and Tumut.

The hire fee is $10 for the duration of the trip. A deposit of $20 is necessary and can be paid by cash, cheque or credit card. The EPIRB is to be returned to the NPWS office from which it was hired by 5pm on the nominated return day. The deposit is forfeited if the safety seal has been broken by any means other than during an emergency situation. The hirer must provide details of their motor vehicle, equipment carried, driverís licence ID and a nominated contact person. The hirer indemnifies the NPWS, the NSW Government and any other person against a claim for any accident that may occur while hiring the EPIRB.

For information about hiring contact the National Parks & Wildlife Service. Snowy Region Visitor Centre tel. (02) 6450 5600

See your outdoor sports store to buy your own personal EPIRB for about $300.00


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