Ocean Signal rescueME PLB1 prompts speedy response from emergency services after Susi Thomas damages vertebrae and breaks ribs in New Zealand trekking accident.

Susi Thomas with her Ocean Signal PLB

After a previous accident brought home the difficulty of getting help when out in remote locations, keen riders Martin and Susi Thomas were thankful to have invested in an Ocean Signal rescueME PLB1 on a recent trekking expedition. It was this device that brought rapid assistance when Susi injured her spine and broke several ribs after a bad fall.

In January, the couple were enjoying what they expected to be an easy ride in relatively straightforward terrain on their horses Cloud and Nuku, before heading into more challenging territory in the Southern Alps, later in their trip. They were approximately 14km inland of Culverden, on South Island, when Susi was thrown from her horse.

Martin explains: “We were riding across a hill paddock when a mob of young cattle charged over the ridgeline in front of us and spooked my wife’s horse. The horse spun around and slipped on the hillside and Susi fell awkwardly, landing on a stock ridge, breaking four ribs and cracking two vertebrae.”

The couple had warned their children, who were their emergency contacts, they would only activate the PLB if they needed urgent medical assistance, so they initially attempted to make it back unaided. “Susi tried remounting and rode for a short distance, 500m or so, and then tried walking but the pain became too much,” says Martin. “Her hands and fingers were feeling numb and tingling, and she was feeling disorientated, so at that point we realised her injuries were more serious and decided to activate the PLB.”

The distress signal quickly brought help in the form of a rescue helicopter which airlifted Susi to Christchurch Hospital. Doctors there found six fractures on four of her ribs and two damaged vertebrae. “Without the PLB, I don’t know how we would have gotten help,” says Martin. “We will always carry one on our adventures.”

Susi Thomas with her New Zealand Station Bred Horse, Cloud

He explains he bought the Ocean Signal rescueME PLB1 after breaking his pelvis while riding in a remote location in 2018. “We chose the Ocean Signal PLB because it was small, light, waterproof and I could wear it on my belt,” says Martin, adding: “The best thing about it was the response we got from pushing the button.”

Suitable for use on land or at sea, Ocean Signal’s rescueME PLB1 is the world’s smallest personal locator beacon and is specifically designed to be small and light enough to carry or attach to clothing for instant access to emergency services at the press of a button. Once activated, the PLB1 communicates the location of a survivor to search and rescue services via the designated 406MHz Cospas-Sarsat satellite system with position provided by a 66 channel GPS. The device also incorporates a 121.5MHz homing beacon, plus high intensity (1 candela) strobe light. It is waterproof up to 15m and has a seven-year battery life.

Ocean Signal provides a free replacement beacon for all owners of its rescueME and SafeSea devices who activate their PLB or EPIRB in an emergency.