Their car fell 300 feet into a canyon. A new iPhone satellite SOS system likely saved them

A couple whose car fell into a rocky canyon in the Angeles National Forest likely survived not just with a lot of luck, rescuers said, but also thanks to a new iPhone feature that immediately alerted first responders to the crash.

Their vehicle fell about 300 feet off a treacherous section of the Angeles Forest Highway where there is no cell service. It’s a spot, said Sgt. John Gilbert of the Los Angeles County sheriff’s Montrose Search and Rescue Team, where he can remember his team responding only to fatal crashes.

“Not only is it a big fall distance-wise, but that particular canyon is extremely steep,” Gilbert said. He called it a “miracle in itself” that the couple survived and then were also able to communicate for help.

Gilbert did not release the names or ages of the couple.

The couple’s iPhone 14 — equipped with a new emergency system that uses crash detection and satellite technology — was able to alert emergency responders to their crash and provide the exact location, Gilbert said. The system was also able to message back-and-forth with the couple via the satellite connection, to relay further information about their injuries and location to emergency personnel.

“Without any of that, we wouldn’t have been alerted to the fact that they had gone over the side of the mountain, and nobody would have known to look for them,” Gilbert said. Even though the pair survived with relatively mild injuries, “they would have had the secondary problem of how do we get out of this canyon before nightfall, when you start to have hypothermia issues.”

Rescuers converged on Monkey Canyon near mile marker 18 on the Angeles Forest Highway about 1:30 pm Tuesday after receiving the location information from Apple’s satellite communication system, Gilbert said. He said it was about 45 degrees during the day and would have quickly fallen into the low 30s once the sun set.

“That information allowed us to get the rescue helicopter,” Gilbert said.

He said the satellite information from the iPhone provided the latitude and longitude of the crash, and the rescue helicopter was able to quickly spot the vehicle and couple.

A paramedic was lowered into the canyon to assess their injuries, Gilbert said, and hoisted the couple up to be airlifted to a hospital.

He said the crashed vehicle was not visible from the roadway.

“Their technology in this case was extremely useful,” Gilbert said. “This is the first time we’ve gotten one of these alerts in which a rescue [occurred].” He said he remembered one other time an iPhone user utilized the satellite emergency system after becoming lost.

The Emergency SOS service via satellite is free for two years after the activation of iPhone 14 or iPhone 14 Pro, according to Apple, made possible through a partnership with Globalstar.

In an interview with Fox 11, the couple said they had tried to pull over on the side of the road to let a vehicle behind them pass but lost control and plunged off the highway.

“We were literally falling for about 15 or 20 seconds,” the man said.

The couple have been released from the hospital.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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