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Feature: The Breitling Watch That Comes With A Rescue Team

When you’re stranded miles from anywhere and in a life-threatening situation with no conventional means of communication at your disposal, there’s only one watch you want on your wrist: the Breitling Emergency.

More than a watch, this pioneering bit of kit, first released in 1995, is also an Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) and thus a potential life-saving device for anyone who finds themselves in a perilous situation—whether that’s in the Australian Outback, on a sinking ship or at risk of being a grizzly bear’s next breakfast in the Alaskan wilderness.

The Breitling Emergency watch has frequently come to the rescue of its wearer

The Breitling Emergency watch has frequently come to the rescue of its wearer

Should its wearer ever find themselves in dire straits, they can trigger the watch’s dual-frequency distress signal, which is activated by unscrewing part of the case to release a set of antennas. The signal is then broadcast on the internationally recognised emergency frequency of 121.5MHz, as well as 406MHz which alerts the network of COSPAS-SARSAT satellites circling the Earth.

Thankfully, most purchasers of the watch probably never need to use it for anything but telling the time— while explaining to people why their watch has a weirdly massive ‘second crown’ on the lugs—but Breitling has so far recorded 20 people who have indeed activated the signal.

The antenna in the watch is located in a 'second crown' on the lugs

The antenna in the watch is located in a 'second crown' on the lugs

Many have been military personnel and their stories have understandably remained secret, while a couple of civilians have gone public with their incredible stories of survival.

Read on to see how a Breitling emergency came to the rescue in their hour of need.

Rescued From Bear Country

In 2012 Mark Spencer was on a bear-hunting trip 120 miles north-east of Anchorage in Alaska when he became separated from his group along the Susitna River. Trekking 55 miles upriver for two days left him hypothermic and near death before he activated his ELT.

Since its introduction in 1995 there have been several Emergency models

Since its introduction in 1995 there have been several Emergency models

By providing his precise geographical location, Spencer was located by a rescue crew who picked up his signal and whisked him to safety by helicopter. Incidentally, a hand-held personal locator beacon that he also had with him incorrectly gave his location as 4 miles away. Had he not been wearing his Breitling the rescue team would have headed to the wrong place.

"Breitling is the number one piece of equipment I always bring with me," he said later. "Even if I lose everything, I will always have my watch. That gives me and my family peace of mind."

Escape From Drake Passage

In 2003 veteran aerobatic helicopter pilot Quentin Smith and his co-pilot were attempting to be the first helicopter pilots to cross the treacherous Drake Passage, a body of water between Argentina and Antarctica.

Shortly after taking off they hit problems and plunged into the sea. Using a satellite phone they were able to call air traffic control, but with the person on the other end of the line only able to speak Spanish, they had difficulty understanding each other and the call came to nothing.

With little hope of survival—Quentin even phoned his father to bid a final farewell—they floated on a life raft for almost ten hours before Smith remembered the emergency device on his Breitling watch, which alerted a Chilean icebreaker that eventually came and plucked them from the freezing water.

As a man who once said he spends “a reasonable proportion of my day about 2/10s of a second from death”, it sounds as though Smith’s Breitling Emergency watch is something he should never leave home without.

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