OnStar couldn't point rescuers to the car, but Apple's Find My iPhone app led emergency services workers right to the spot in a ravine where a 28-year-old Campbell, Calif., woman and her car had plunged 300 feet off a road.
Nearly 18 hours after the crash in the hills outside San Jose, Calif., the woman was airlifted out of the ravine and treated for her injuries when rescuers finally located her the morning after the accident. The woman was found face down outside of her vehicle, unable to use her phone due to the injuries which were described as "moderate to severe."
Family members reported the woman missing at around 3 a.m., according to reports. The vehicle traveled off the roadway and into the ravine after 1:30 p.m. the day prior to her rescue.
Rescuers combed a wide swatch of land, searching from the last stretch of road she was known to have been traveling, and even looked in downtown San Jose.
OnStar had issued a distress signal shortly after 2 p.m., but it wasn't pointing authorities to the correct location. The woman's wireless carrier was a bit more helpful, though it could only place her location within a seven-mile radius of the accident scene.
"We searched a pretty big area," says Campbell police Capt. Gary Berg. "We were confident the vehicle wasn't in that area."
One officer asked the woman's family if she used an iPhone, which led to the detective guiding her relatives through a Find My iPhone search on the woman's iPad. The iPhone's logging of Wi-Fi hotspots and GPS connections enabled Find My iPhone to direct rescue workers to the woman's exact location.
Rescuers combated unforgiving winds, thick brush and uncertainty that they could airlift the woman to a medical facility. However, the pilot of a Coast Guard helicopter used to airlift her from the ravine was able to keep the chopper low and steady long enough to bring the rescue effort to a happy conclusion.
"It was lot of coordination with local agencies; not only yesterday but this morning as we figured out the location," Berg said. "It was a great collaborative effort."
In a world more concerned about privacy than ever before, thanks to the Edward Snowden revelations, there is still a lot of good that comes out to tracking individuals via cell phones.