Anchorage, AK — Rescuers who located two hikers lost for four days in Denali National Park last week tracked the women down with help from two cellular phone companies: Verizon Wireless and Alaska Communications Systems (ACS,) the state's leading provider of integrated telecom services. Abby Flantz, 25, of Gaylord, Minn., and Erica Nelson, 23, of Las Vegas, Nev.,were missing in Denali since Sunday June 15 prompting a multi-day search involving some 100 people, helicopters and dogs. Rescuers reached the women on Wednesday June 18 after ACS network engineers, working with law enforcement, helped narrow the search area and pinpoint the hikers within the nearly six million acre wilderness area.
The breakthrough occurred after Erica placed a call with her Verizon Wireless phone to her mother, who was getting briefed at Denali by National Park Service officials at the time. Officials and police, working with the phone companies, tracked the signal to an ACS cell tower in Nenana, some 60 miles away from the women's location. ACS provided coverage maps to police and assisted in effectively focusing the search. The women also sent text messages describing their location. Verizon Wireless customers roam on the ACS networkwhich extends from the North Slope to Ketchikan and includes all major population centers such as Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau.
"The cell phone service was instrumental in helping us find them," said Kris Fister, National Park Service spokeswoman.
The timing was fortunate since ACS recently extended its service from the Nenana tower.
"We were thrilled to hear of Abby and Erica's safe return to their families. And we're particularly excited to know that our wireless network helped in that effort," Paula Dobbyn, ACS Director of Corporate Communications, said.
Recognizing that Denali National Park is one of Alaska's top attractions for tourists and locals, ACS decided to broaden its wireless coverage in the park, particularly along the road corridor, for both customer convenience and public safety. The company is considering further extension of its network, particularly in light of this week's events.
In addition, in municipalities which have invested in advanced 911 capabilities, ACS' CDMA cellular technology already allows for speedier and more accurate identification of callers in the event of a 911 emergency. Although no governmental agency has yet invested in the equipment and services to necessary to receive ACS' more detailed location data in Denali, CDMA allows 911 operators to locate a caller through Global Positioning System (GPS) chips built into the handsets. To date Anchorage and Sitka have invested in E911 and the service is active in those municipalities. It will soon be available in Fairbanks and later on the Kenai Peninsula.