Satellite-aided locator could help mountaineers: Climbers

BENGALURU: A satellite-aided device that pinpoints the exact location of the user could be of help to mountaineers, who face risk to their lives while summiting the Himalayan peaks, climbers said.

Similar devices are already in use in the country's aviation and maritime sectors along with the government-backed search and rescue (SAR) infrastructure.

A number of mountaineers, both from within and outside the country, died this season summiting Mt Everest and the other "eight thousanders" in the Himalayas.

Some of them might have been saved if rescuers had the Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) that could pinpoint their exact location, the climbers said.

A senior official of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), which takes care of the satellite-related functions of SAR, has supported the effectiveness of PLB in mountaineering.

"ISRO supports your suggestion to make PLBs of Search and Rescue System compulsory to the mountaineering teams/members and this should be brought to the notice of concerned authority as it does not fall under the purview of INMCC (Indian Mission Control Center)-ISRO," said P V Venkitakrishnan, director, Capacity Building Programme Office, ISRO, in an email to a communication enthusiast.

Arya Ghosh, the communication aficionado and a member of the American Radio Relay League, the world's largest body of amateur radio enthusiasts, had written to ISRO suggesting the possibility of making PLBs mandatory for mountaineers following the disappearance of them in recent times.

A team of eight mountaineers had gone missing while advancing to Nanda Devi East peak on May 25 this year. It took the ITBP nearly one month to retrieve seven bodies on June 23 after a massive operation often hampered by inclement weather.

The body of the team leader is yet to be found as is the mortal remains of Chhanda Gayen, who lost her life in an avalanche while descending the western side of Mt Kanchenjunga in 2014.

The body of famed climber Dipankar Ghosh was also found after a five-day search. He had gone missing on May 17 this year while returning after a successful expedition of Mt Makalu in Nepal.

A device like the PLB might have been able to save a few of these lives, Arya Ghosh said.

"If such a technology is available, we should go for it. But it should not flout government rules and has to be affordable. In most cases the mountaineers find it difficult to raise funds for an expedition," said Debdas Nandi, noted climber and advisor to the West Bengal Mountaineering and Adventure Sports Foundation.

The foundation operates under the West Bengal government's Department of Youth Services and Sports.

Mountaineers Soma Bhattacharya and Suman Guha Neogi said the PLB appears to be a better device than cell phones, satellite phones, GPS receiver and the like which are carried during expeditions.

They suggested if the government could arrange for the device and rent it to trekkers or mountaineers, it would be of immense help to adventure sports enthusiasts.

Ghosh said a PLB-like device would cut down the time taken to locate a mountaineer in peril by a rescue team to a few seconds, provided of course there are no obstructions to the signals it emits.

The Emergency Locator Transmitters in aircraft and Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons in ships are variants of the PLB, he added.


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