Search and rescue professionals call viral hiking post misguided

Published: Oct. 26, 2021 at 5:35 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) -A viral post over the weekend telling people to change their voicemail if their lost is having search and rescue teams urging people to NOT follow the advice.

In Southern Arizona, the busy hiking season is just starting to kick off as temperatures drop.

“it is going to be getting busier now that it is cooler down here,” said John Perchorowicz of Southern Arizona Search and Rescue (SARA).

SARA averages about two rescues a week, but a viral post is concerning for them—and rescuers around the nation. It suggests if people are lost with low cell phone battery or phone service to change their personal voicemail message telling people where they are or where they are going.

“I wouldn’t recommend it,” said Perchorowicz.

Rescue teams around the nation have been swift to respond saying this is not sage advice.

“You may be out of cell service, and if you’re lost and your cell phone is running down, one of the last things you want to is start playing with your voicemail. Number one, it may never get out to where you think it will. A text will very often get farther that a voicemail will,” said Perchorowicz. “So, if you’re in the wilderness, and you’ve got a bar, or half a bar or even no bars, it’s always worth try to send a text, you can’t text 911, but you can text your friends or someone who’s responsible to call 911 and let them know where you are.”

Over at Picacho Peak State Park, cell service often goes amiss. Still, rescuers said it’s always worth a call and text to someone. Ideally, someone should know where you’re going before you start your hike too.

“Especially on the backside of the mountain where nothing is really there, it can be very spotty, and that makes it difficult,” said Sara Toms-Bergquisk, an assistant park manager Picacho Peak State Park. “When people come into the park, we’re going to give them a map, and we always suggest people take that map because it has our phone number on it.”

What rescue teams suggest is to have your cell phone fully charged because the authorities will call you to get your GPS location, much to the frustration of Colorado authorities who tried to reach a missing hiker, but he kept ignoring the calls, thinking it was spam.

“When trouble strikes, you want that cell phone to be useful, you want to be able to call someone or text someone …and most folks don’t start out with a fully charged one,” said Perchorowicz. “Maintain your cellphone until it’s completely out because the sheriff will call you back.”

SARA said to not hike alone, always have a map of some kind and tell a loved one where you are going and when you will be back. To save cell phone battery, you can close apps.

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