LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A badly injured California hiker stranded on a remote trail was located by a quick-thinking dispatch trainee using Facebook after a 911 distress call got cut off, authorities said Wednesday.
Ryan Pritchard, 41, was hiking Sunday afternoon with his sons Jake, 11, and Devon, 18, in the rugged Putah Creek State Wildlife Area near Lake Barryessa, about 30 miles east of his Sacramento home, when he slipped on a loose rock and fell 150 feet down a cliff and landed in a tree.
Since Devon had already gone ahead to their car to return gear, little brother Jake went down the cliff, got his father’s cell phone and called 911, reaching the California Highway Patrol dispatcher. But the call was disconnected before he could give an accurate location and efforts to call again failed.
“Because it was in our jurisdiction, they relayed it to us,” said Deputy Daryl Snedeker, spokesman for the Solano County Sheriff’s Department. “Our dispatchers took the information and began to work together to try to determine where the subject was.”
The cell phone coordinates got them no closer than a cell tower in the city of Vacaville, some 30 miles from where the hikers were. Then a dispatch trainee, Breanna Martinez, got an idea.
“She’s a younger person, so the social media was the first thing that came to her mind,” said Snedeker. “She went to Google, as everyone does these days, and Googled the guy’s name.”
Google took Martinez to Ryan Pritchard’s LinkedIn page, which then led her to his Facebook page.
“I scrolled down and the very first post was a picture of his two sons and behind him was the lake — Lake Berryessa,” Martinez told CBS Sacramento. “And it just said, ‘Hiking the Blue Ridge Trail today.’”
That was all the information the dispatchers needed. A CHP rescue helicopter crew found the trail, plucked Ryan from the tree and got him to UC Davis Medical Center all before darkness, said Snedeker.
Ryan was being treated for several fractured bones, a head injury and a broken jaw, his family told CBS Sacramento.
“I am really impressed by this. I’m so proud of them, taking the initiative and solving the problem,” said the dispatchers’ boss, Solano County Sheriff Tom Ferrara. “And if you have to come up with a new way of doing it, that’s just outstanding.”
Reporting by Michael Fleeman; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Cynthia Osterman