Signal source mystifies searchers on Grand Mesa

What started Friday at a U.S. Air Force base in Florida consumed Greg Foley’s day in Fraser.

It also kept at least 24 rescuers from Mesa, Delta and Gunnison counties stomping around Grand Mesa.

In the end, there was no definitive answer on what started it all.

Authorities abandoned efforts about 5 p.m. to find the source of a Global Positioning System distress beacon, which was first detected early Friday by a government-monitored satellite. Mesa County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Heather Benjamin said the search likely will be suspended, barring new information. As of late Friday afternoon, no missing hunter reports had been filed in Mesa or Delta counties.

The mystery signal was believed to have originated from a personal locator beacon, a small device offering GPS accuracy commonly used by hunters or hikers. The signal moved through the day, raising speculation a locator may have been accidentally activated, assuming it was attached to a person and not an animal, Benjamin said.

It was first detected near Owens Creek, just south of Vega Reservoir.

Foley, a Fraser resident and coordinator with the Colorado Search and Rescue State Board, said it started with a phone call at 4:15 a.m. from the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. A satellite picked up the beacon, Foley said.

The Florida facility helps coordinate searches in the 48 contiguous United States, Mexico and Canada, according to the center’s website.

Delta County Undersheriff Mark Taylor said Foley called Delta dispatchers at 5:38 a.m. with coordinates from the beacon, which later was determined to be inside Mesa County.

Foley, meanwhile, said he was on the phone with searchers throughout the day, relaying updates from Florida about the signal’s movement to Grand Mesa.

“It seems like they are getting closer,” Foley said about 2 p.m., estimating a ground team at one point was about an hour or two behind the signal’s movement.

The locator at issue was not registered when it was purchased, a source of frustration for searchers Friday, Foley said.

“Along with a location, we would have a name and contact number, and the sheriff could run that person’s information and get a vehicle description, etc.,” Foley said.

Fifteen members of the Mesa County Search and Rescue team, two more searchers from Delta County and seven from Gunnison County responded to Grand Mesa.


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