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SMS messages that saved travellers's lives

On the 20th anniversary of the first SMS, we celebrate five simple text messages that helped stricken travellers out of life-threatening situations

The SMS messages that saved travellers's lives (Dreamstime)

20 years ago this week, British engineer Neil Papworth, sent the first text message. It has proved a boon for travellers, providing a cheap and instant way to stay in contact with friends and family back home. And a hassle-free way to ask mum and dad to put a little extra money in your bank account when funds got low.

Over the years the simple SMS has revealed itself as something altogether more useful. It has become a lifesaver, an instant lifeline to authorities and family help when things went wrong.

So, on the 20th anniversary of text messaging, we raise our glass to SMS as an SOS, with five celebrated examples where a simple SMS saved travellers' lives

2001 – Bailed out in Bali

In 2001, young British traveller Rebecca Fyfe was on a backpacking trip in Asia when the boat she was onboard in the Lombok Strait started sinking. She sent an SMS to her boyfriend, who was drinking in a pub in England. "Call Falmouth Coastguard, we need help, SOS."

The message was passed to coastguards in Australia and then to the Indonesian authorities. A rescue boat took the passengers to safety and the stricken vessel was towed into harbour.

2008 – Red alert in Majorca

Brit Martin Stone got lost after climbing Puig Tomir, a 3,615 ft peak on the Spanish island of Majorca. He sent an SOS text message to his wife back home in the Midlands, who called British emergency services. They called the Spanish authorities who launched a rescue operation later that evening.

Thick fog hampered the search, but Mr Stone was eventually spotted the following morning, waving his bright red scarf at a rescue helicopter.

"It is only thanks to his wife and his scarf that he's alive today," said a rescue worker.

2008 – Surgery panic in Congo

In 2008, vascular surgeon, David Nott, was volunteering at a hospital in Congo when a 16-year-old boy required emergency surgery. In order to save the boy's life, the British doctor had to text a colleague to find out the necessary procedure regarding the life-saving amputation to the boy's left arm. The colleague, Professor Meirion Thomas, replied with specific instructions which Nott followed successfully.

Despite the risks involved with such a serious operation and lack of intensive-care amenities, the teenage boy made a full recovery.

2010 – Greeks bearing texts

After stopping to take a photo, Greek tourist Marios Symeonidis lost his companion, and his way, on the slopes of Mount Ruapehu in New Zealand. Wearing only light clothing, he was poorly equipped to spend the night on the mountain. Marios sent text messages to his family in Greece, telling them he was lost. They then passed on the information to police in New Zealand via Greek emergency services.

Four teams were dispatched to rescue Marios, who was found cold and hungry, but generally OK.

2010 – Lost at sea

While sailing between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, British sailor, Paul Mountjoy, found himself "in the shit" when the steering failed on his 45 yacht. With his other crew member ill and limited signal to make a phone call, Mountjoy had no choice but to text his father back home in the Midlands, England. Paul's father then alerted the Falmouth Coastguards, who managed to get hold of the rescue workers in the Dominican Republic.

"We had to go half way round the world but the UK stepped on the go button and we got him help," said his father.

And sometimes the old way works best:

2012 – Smoke over SMS

With zero phone coverage and a broken foot, a 25-year old Canadian tourist camping in Norway resorted to smoke signals after he failed to be discovered by passers by. He started the fire in the hope of alerting rescuers to his whereabouts but instead sparked a huge blaze that affected the majority of the island. The man was rescued while 20 firefighters tackled the fire including two army helicopters.

"It's illegal to start this kind of fire, but in this case the police aren't going to take any action," said an officer. 

Has an SMS ever got you out of a sticky situation in your travels? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.

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