Surviving cruel weather in the Italian mountains

RESCUE PROFILE: Francesco De Marco
Francesco De Marco
Francesco De Marco

As a naturalist and landscape photographer, Francesco de Marco often travels from his base in Italy to parts of the world with no mobile phone reception. He bought a SPOT Gen3 in 2016 after doing thorough research and reading reviews. Now, when he arrives somewhere for a shoot, he makes a point of sending a check-in message to the folks back home to say he is OK. His family and friends follow his travels as his faithful SPOT tracks his movements.

However in December 2017, Francesco found himself using SPOT in an emergency situation.

He was driving off-road, heading home with three others in the Apennine Mountains of central Italy about 100 km North East of Rome when the weather suddenly changed. They found themselves in a huge snowstorm and the temperature plummeted to -20 degrees C.


"Being accustomed to the unpredictable conditions in the mountains, I drive a Jeep and am always equipped with gear designed to withstand low temperatures," said Francesco.

However the car got stuck in a snowy ditch.

Once he managed to get a signal, Francesco decided to call the emergency services for help after his attempts to dig the car out had failed. However, the local police operator did not grasp the magnitude of the problem and did not initiate a rescue.

Francesco felt a responsibility for his follow travellers, so he kept the car heating on and ensured they were all kept warm with thermal blankets. "Then I went back to digging with an increased sense of urgency as night had started to fall," he commented.

After another hour of digging, Francesco’s face and hands were frozen yet the car was still firmly stuck. The ice and wind had created a frozen mask on his face and his snow boots had begun to let the cold in.

Moreover, the patchy mobile phone service had disappeared completely. "I couldn’t risk walking off to find phone signal because I would have got lost in the snowstorm in a matter of seconds," he remarked.

There was only one course of action and Francesco pressed the SOS button on his SPOT. The IERCC immediately contacted the fire department of l’Aquila and gave them Francesco’s GPS position.

Because the roads were completely blocked, it took five hours for the rescue team to reach them.

"Thanks to my extensive preparation, we were able keep calm, despite the extreme conditions. Frankly, if I had not planned ahead and managed to keep a clear head, we would never have made it back home alive. The fantastic SPOT truly saved our lives.

"Only when I got home did I understand how close it had been. Travelling to isolated places requires mental and technical preparation. The right equipment will save your life and I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale without SPOT. You can be sure I will never travel without it," Francesco added.

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