GPS Device Saves Life of Montana Hunter

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It’s every hunter’s worst nightmare: miles away from civilization, disaster strikes. You’re nowhere near a hospital, seriously injured, needing help sooner than dialing a cell phone can provide. What do you do? In John Chepulis’ case, it was a SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger to the rescue.


Chepulis went out hunting with friends John Simmons and Scott Wittman at the base of Shedhorn Mountain on October 30. Everything was proceeding as it should: Chepulis and Wittman were riding their horses three-quarters of a mile away from Simmons while Simmons kept an eye on them through binoculars. The two were trying to flush out elk and steer them in Simmons’ direction. At about 10 a.m., everything turned upside down.


“I just happened to look up and here comes an elk out of the bush and right behind it is John’s horse with no John,” said Simmons. Right behind Chepulis’ horse was Wittman, attempting to catch the runaway horse. The horse had spooked after picking up on the scent of a grizzly bear track, which had crossed the snow-covered trail they were riding along. The commotion of the spooked horse caught the attention of an elk lying in the brush next to the trail causing it to bolt, scaring the horse even further. The horse galloped away, and an unprepared Chepulis fell off, landing on a rock slide.


Chepulis broke 10 of the 12 ribs on his right side in the fall, some in multiple places. One broken bone punctured a lung, which collapsed. Multiple broken ribs in a row leads to a dangerous medical condition termed flail chest, when a portion of the rib cage detaches from the chest wall. This causes the detached portion to move inward rather than outward when a breath is drawn in, causing pain and difficulty breathing. He also suffered from tension pneumothorax, also known as air in the chest cavity. This reduces the heart’s output, often causing death.


Despite the severity of his injuries, he remained conscious and was able to talk to his friend directly following the accident. Wittman called Simmons on a walkie-talkie, saying “John just took a real bad fall. What do you think about turning this SPOT thing on?”


SPOT Satellite GPS Messengers are handheld GPS devices used to provide location data for concerned family members back at home via the company’s website. The user is also able to send messages, call for help in situations that are not life threatening, as well as send out an SOS in a serious situation. Days prior to this hunting trip, Chepulis’ and Simmons’ wives forced them into purchasing the devices after returning home “30 hours late” from another trip in known grizzly bear territory. “When you are on the outside and have no means of communication with them, you don’t know the reason why they’re late,” said Bonnie. “It ended up definitely being a lifesaver.”


Simmons was incredibly thankful his wife suggested purchasing the SPOT. “I thought it was pretty damn scary,” said Simmons, referring to watching his friend, Chepulis. “He was lying there gurgling.” Wittman acted quickly, activating the SOS on Chepulis’ SPOT GPS device by holding down the button for three seconds. This sent a signal containing their GPS coordinates to the closest SPOT emergency response center in Montgomery, Texas, where they determined the closest dispatch center, in this case the Madison County Sheriff’s Office. This was their first SPOT GPS device SOS. A rescue helicopter was dispatched to the scene, led to their exact GPS coordinates. Sheriff Dave Schenk said, “If we had not reacted so quickly, it’s probably unlikely that John would have survived. The stars were aligned so perfectly that the helicopter was able to get close.” None of this would have been possible without the help of the SPOT GPS Messenger, guaranteed to be these hunters’ best friend in the future.


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Khristen Foss

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