Travelers warned not to rely only on GPS

SALMON, Idaho Fri May 13, 2011 10:49am EDT

Canadian couple Albert and Rita Chretien are seen in this Royal Canadian Mounted Police photo released to Reuters on May 7, 2011. Rita Chretien, 56, stranded in a van for seven weeks on a remote dirt road in northern Nevada survived on snow and some trail mix until hunters discovered her, authorities said May 7, 2011. REUTERS/Royal Canadian Mounted Police/Handout

Canadian couple Albert and Rita Chretien are seen in this Royal Canadian Mounted Police photo released to Reuters on May 7, 2011. Rita Chretien, 56, stranded in a van for seven weeks on a remote dirt road in northern Nevada survived on snow and some trail mix until hunters discovered her, authorities said May 7, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Royal Canadian Mounted Police/Handout

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SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - Travelers in the western U.S. should not rely solely on technology such as GPS for navigation, authorities said, after a Canadian couple were lost in the Nevada wilderness for 48 days.

Albert Chretien, 59, and his wife Rita Chretien, 56, sought a shorter route between Boise, Idaho and Jackpot, Nevada during a road trip from British Columbia to Las Vegas.

Rita Chretien drank water from a stream and rationed meager supplies until hunters found her on Friday. Albert Chretien has been missing since March 22, when he went to seek help.

The Chretians mapped the route on their hand-held GPS, an electronic device tied to global satellites and commonly used for navigation.

Law enforcement and search and rescue officials said that too many travelers are letting technology lull them into a false sense of security.

"There are times when you need to put the GPS down and look out the window," said Howard Paul, veteran search and rescue official with the Colorado Search and Rescue Board, the volunteer organization that coordinates that state's missions.

Sheriff's offices in remote, high-elevation parts of Idaho, Nevada and Wyoming report the past two years have brought a rise in the number of GPS-guided travelers driving off marked and paved highways and into trouble.

The spike has prompted Death Valley National Park in California to caution on its web site that "GPS navigation to sites to remote locations like Death Valley are notoriously unreliable."

When two roads diverge in Western lands, take the one more traveled, authorities said.

"You've got people driving into the middle of a field because a machine showed a route that was shorter and quicker -- which it ultimately is not," said Rob DeBree, undersheriff in Albany County in southeastern Wyoming.

Searching for travelers who veer off an interstate highway in a county the size of Connecticut can be costly, time-consuming and dangerous for rescuers, he said.

Jerry Colson, sheriff of neighboring Carbon County, issued a broad appeal this winter to stay on paved roadways after several motorists consulted GPS devices for shortcuts and plowed into snowdrifts on roads to nowhere.

Authorities said such incidents show there is no substitute for common sense.

"Your machine may tell you the quickest route but it might not take into account there are impassable canyons between you and your destination," said Daryl Crandall, sheriff of Owyhee County in southwest Idaho.

Kevin McKinney, detective sergeant with the sheriff's office in Elko County, Nevada that is heading up the search for Albert Chretien, said motorists risk hardships on the patchwork of primitive roads in the wilds of northern Nevada where technology is ineffective.

"This country is as rugged and as unforgiving as you can get," he said.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Greg McCune)

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