New high-tech system will help with backcountry searches

By Emily Mieure

Jackson Hole News&Guide

Via Wyoming News Exchange

JACKSON — A generous and anonymous Teton County resident has fronted more than $100,000 to buy a high-tech system to help Teton County Search and Rescue find people lost or injured in remote areas with no cellular service.

Lifeseeker is a European system that attaches to a helicopter or plane and allows rescuers to locate people where there is no cell signal as long as their cellphone is turned on.

Search and Rescue Chief Advisor Cody Lockhart and former advisor Tim Ciocarlan learned about the technology about three years ago while in Bulgaria at an International Commission for Alpine Rescue convention.

“We thought it was really killer for places like us that have limited cell service,” Ciocarlan said.

There have been a series of tests with the equipment over the last few years.

But Lifeseeker, which was developed by Spain-based Centum Research & Technology, has never been used in the United States, Ciocarlan said, and there were glitches that needed to be fixed.

“Cellphones work differently here,” Ciocarlan said. “The first time they brought it here and tested it, it didn’t realy work. Since then they’ve been here five or six times for more testing.”

The most recent trial took place in mid-December, and the system passed the multiday test.

“We were successful,” Ciocarlan said.

So Teton County Search and Rescue bought the device, becoming Lifeseeker’s first civilian partner in the U.S.

Ciocarlan can recall a dozen searches or rescues over the past three years when Lifeseeker would have been instrumental in locating a lost or injured person.

“It gives us the opportunity to find someone more quickly and save more lives,” Ciocarlan said.

The device allows rescuers to locate any type of cellphone if the phone is turned on in a noncoverage or low-coverage area. It won’t work if a cellphone is on “airplane mode.” The phone has to be turned on and trying to reach for a tower.

“This device cannot spy on you,” Ciocarlan said. “We can’t track you around. If you have cellphone service it can’t find you. It can’t read your texts or hear your conversations. It’s hugely limited, but that’s good because that’s all we need.”

It does allow rescuers to send a text to the person they’re trying to locate.

“It will just say, ‘Do you need help?’ and they can respond,” Ciocarlan said.

The tool will be used for emergency purposes only, Sheriff Matt Carr said.

“There is no law enforcement application for this,” Carr said. “It’s a search and rescue tool only.”

As an example of its use, Ciocarlan said Lifeseeker would have been used to find the site of the June 9 fatal glider crash in the Tetons.

“Searching from an aircraft looking down in the terrain, sometimes you can fly over someone multiple times and never see them,” Ciocarlan said.

Search and Rescue personnel hope the technology will shave hours or even days off rescues, in turn saving lives and money.

Ciocarlan said the anonymous donor was involved with testing Lifeseeker from the beginning.

“They were very generous and willing to help us, but the caveat was it had to work and it had to work really well,” Ciocarlan said.

After almost three years of troubleshooting, Lifeseeker is being installed at the end of this week.

“We’ve been patient, and it is a huge expense,” Ciocarlan said. “But we wanted to buy something that could save someone’s life.”