Words nobody wants to hear whilst on a plane. But, if you are unfortunate enough to, at least you can trust in an Emergency watch from Breitling. It might just save your life.
Picture the scene: you are alone in the ocean after your yacht has sunk, or you have crashed your light aircraft in the middle of the desert. You look to your watch. Yes, you recall the old boy scout trick of identifying south – it’s roughly half way between the hour hand and the 12 o’clock marker when the hour hand is pointed towards the sun. But then you can’t remember whether daylight savings has been applied. Or you realise this only works in the northern hemisphere and becomes less and less accurate the closer you are to the equator. Or you realise that you are wearing a digital watch. What good your timepiece then? To know the approximate hour of your death perhaps?
But wait, there is one watch that really could help. When Breitling launched its concisely-named Emergency model in 1995, there was no clear consumer demand for what was as much a survival instrument as a timepiece: after all, its bulk and price precluded it from many customers other than serious collectors or those few adventurers who might genuinely find themselves in need of its functionality. This, after all, was a watch with a micro-transmitter broadcasting on the international aviation distress frequency that would not start a search, but would definitely help a search team when it got going.
Certainly it was a stylish chronograph – the availability of replicas is testament to this – and the beacon, developed with Dassault Electronique and activated by pulling out an integrated antennae, had more than an appealing touch of James Bond about it. But, unlike a chronograph, this was not the sort of function one could play with while idling away time in a dull meeting. Not unless, perhaps, the meeting was life-threateningly dull. And even then it might still prove a pricey way out: owners of Emergency watches are contractually obliged to cover the cost of any rescue if they misuse their watch.
All the same, the model (and its more luxe sister model, the Emergency Mission) was a sales success, selling some 40,000 pieces. It looked the part. It was tough – it would survive the crash, or sinking, even if you didn’t. And, after all, the request to develop the model in the first place had come, in part, from NATO. The design was pioneering. Once the COSPASSARSAT international search and rescue system (a network of geo-stationery, low-earth orbit, ground receiving stations and control centres) had calculated the approximate position of the downed aircraft – all aircraft are mandated to carry a distress beacon system that is automatically activated on impact – the watch’s signal would allow search and rescue teams to hone in on the lost individual, and any lucky companion who was smart enough to stay close by, (now not quite so smug about their $10 digital watch and its “better time-keeping”).
Now Breitling’s Emergency has been updated with the equally concise moniker of Emergency II. Firstly, this is a device that can now be used for
“A caribou hunter in the Alaskan backcountry decided to leave his group in search of help when shallow waters prevented them making their way
safely up the Tyron River. Two days later he concluded he was lost and pulled out the antennae.
SAR got to him before the bears.”
any kind of emergency situation in which the wearer is seriously lost – owners of the original Emergency had to agree to only use the beacon in aeronautical instances, surely an agreement which presumably any rational person would promptly ignore if the worst happened.
Secondly, as well as transmitting a 121.5MHz signal detectable perhaps 100 miles away (depending on conditions), the Emergency II also transmits at a more reliable, 406MHz digital frequency. This follows the 2009 decision by COSPAS-SARSAT that its satellites would no longer pick up at the 121.5MHz analogue frequency (which is, however, still used for close range searching).
The result is, at 51 mm diameter, a sizable if light piece of titanium kit, which sells for around $15,000 – a lot for a seemingly small advance.
But that advance took five years of development. The R&D team had to work out how to create a device now capable of transmitting on two frequencies, with the antenna length varying according to wavelength. The solution is an original system by which, according to circumstances, the transmitter uses part or all of the watch’s two antennae. Just as important was how to get this new dual-frequency personal locator beacon circuitry into what is still a relatively small space – a first for any watch – along with two batteries. One battery for the watch, the other – pioneering, rechargeable and super-charged – for the beacon. That gives you some 24 hours in which to be found before the battery dies and, quite possibly, you do soon after.
That 24 hours, of course, makes all the difference, although the real test of such a watch is whether it actually works. Never mind the time. Is it a life-saver? In a word… Yes.
Since the COSPAS-SARSAT was launched in 1985, some 26,000 people have been retrieved from a potentially fatal situation. More than a few of those were down to the Emergency. It didn’t take long for life-saving tales to surface after the original model’s launch. There was, for example, the Swiss (of course) military parachutist who became disorientated in cloud, injured his leg on landing and used his Emergency to be found. The story goes that he was the only member of the team making the jump that day to wear an Emergency, which he had bought a few months earlier.
So too with other tales of derring-do gone wrong. Two British pilots on a pole-to-pole expedition crashed their helicopter in Antarctica and, drifting away from the crash site, used their watches to be located by a rescue aircraft. A caribou hunter in the Alaskan backcountry decided to leave his group in search of help when shallow waters prevented them making their way safely up the Tyron River. Two days later he concluded he was lost and pulled out the antennae. SAR got to him before the bears. The Emergency, in short, was insurance on a bracelet. Breitling’s latest version gives you a more fully comprehensive policy.
The Breitling Emergency II , on l ocation one of many potential environments. in
L e f t: T h e B r e i t l i n g E m e r g e n c y h a s s av e d t h o u s a n d s o f p e o p l e fr o m disastrous situations R i g h t: A n e x p l o d e d v i e w o f the Emergency