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Josephine County SAR saves couple led astray by GPS

A Josephine County Search and Rescue team equipped with both a SnoCat and a tracked Utility Terrain Vehicle on a snowy mountain road saved two motorists who were stranded overnight this week after they followed Google Maps directions to a snowy mountain road just past the California border. [Josephine County Sheriff’s Office photo]

The Josephine County Sheriff’s Office is reminding drivers not to blindly trust the directions their smartphone apps after a search-and-rescue team equipped with a SnoCat saved two stranded motorists just beyond the California border who’d followed their Google Maps reroute.

Two motorists in a newer model Toyota RAV4 with Washington plates spent more than 12 hours overnight Wednesday in rural Del Norte County, California, before a Josephine County Search and Rescue team equipped with both a SnoCat and a tracked Utility Terrain Vehicle located them on a snowy mountain road the following day, according to a news advisory from the sheriff’s office.

The motorists' trip to see the redwoods reportedly took a turn due to downed trees in the area and a resulting road closure. Police say Google Maps advised the motorists that southbound Highway 101 was closed due to downed trees, so the GPS smartphone app suggested a new route through Happy Camp Road.

The motorists first reached Josephine County 911 at 4:45 p.m. Wednesday, but not before some confusion among dispatchers over in which of three counties across two states they were located.

The motorists first reached dispatchers in nearby Siskiyou County, California, and it wasn’t for another 10 hours — at 2:58 a.m. — that rescuers determined they were actually in Del Norte County.

An all-volunteer team with Josephine County Search and Rescue handled the search because Del Norte County had limited access, according to police.

After daybreak, the search team from Southern Oregon traversed the mountain road in the SnoCat and tracked UTV, and ultimately found the stranded motorists “in good health and good spirits albeit a little cold,” according to the news advisory.

Alternate routes suggested by smartphone GPS apps such as Google Maps, Apple Maps or Waze may direct motorists to hazardous roads or backroads closed for the season. The sheriff’s office recommends that motorists stay on major roads and highways — especially when unfamiliar with an area or when traveling in winter.

For more information on road closures and conditions see tripcheck.com in Oregon, quickmap.dot.ca.gov in California or dial 5-1-1.

Reach web editor Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTwebeditor.