Teenagers lost on pitch black Wrekin rescued by police using location finder app

Police used a location finder app to rescue three teenagers who got lost in the dark at The Wrekin.

The Wrekin
The Wrekin

The youths, aged 14 to 16, dialled 999 after becoming disorientated in the woods while descending the landmark hill on Saturday.

They were found by Newport-based officers Pc Lee Thomas and Pc Iain McIntosh who used the What3Words app to make their way directly to the trio.

The app works by dividing the world into three metre squares, with each one allocated a unique three word address.

See how What3Words works:

Pc Thomas said: "As darkness fell, they couldn’t see where the footpaths were and were unable to pick out any landmarks to give them any idea which way they were heading through the trees.”

"We were able to make phone contact with the group and to ask them to go back up to higher ground, both so that they could get a better view of their surroundings and also in the hope they would get a mobile internet signal to download the What3Words app.

"Once they had done that we were able to instantly pinpoint their exact location to within a few metres."

He said the boys, were found in a cold condition but unhurt, and thanked them for leading them to safety.

Pc Thomas added: “In daylight The Wrekin is a very popular place to visit and the various routes up, down and around it are very easy to navigate but in the hours of darkness it’s a different place, where it’s easy to lose your way, especially if you aren’t on the main track.

“Some people might ask how you get lost on The Wrekin, and suggest you can just walk back down until you reach a road but it’s not that simple. If you don’t descend the main service route for the TV transmitter and past the Halfway House, you will more than likely end up in dense woodland with no roads or obvious paths anywhere nearby.”

He added: “As we made our way towards them, to give them a little more reassurance that help was on the way we used the location-sharing facility in the Whatsapp app on our phone so they could see exactly where we were as well.

“When we finally found them they were probably only 30m or so off the main lower circular path, but visibility in the dark, with mist falling and drizzling rain as well, was probably less than 5-10m at most, and when you are in a wood full of trees, everything in every direction looks the same.”

When the teenagers were reunited with their relatives, the officers also advised them to have a back-up plan when going trekking, including keeping mobile phones fully charged and carrying traditional torches.

The What3Words app has been hailed by emergency services for its ability to provide precise locations anywhere in the world. It works by dividing the whole globe into 3sqm and giving each of those squares a unique three-word identifier.

For example, 'carriage.salon.biked' would mean you were at the front door of Malinsgate Police Station in Telford or 'tolls.wiring.weds' would put you at the main gate of Buckingham Palace in London.

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Once the app is on the phone no internet connection is required for it pinpoint the location and provide the three words which will tell somebody else exactly where in the world you are.

Pc Thomas said: “We can’t recommend it enough. It’s one of those things you may never use, but on that one occasion you do need it, it’s there and ready to help.”

“If we weren’t able to use What3Words to locate the group on the Wrekin this evening, our only option would have been to call in the police helicopter with a thermal camera to search the area and probably a search and rescue team who would have the equipment to carry out a physical search of the hillside in the darkness.”

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