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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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RECCO technology helped find final avalanche victim, but avalanche beacons remain king

Search-and-rescue operators use RECCO dual-frequency detectors to pinpoint the location of skiers, snowboarders and outdoor enthusiasts buried in avalanches. (PR NEWSWIRE)
Search-and-rescue operators use RECCO dual-frequency detectors to pinpoint the location of skiers, snowboarders and outdoor enthusiasts buried in avalanches. (PR NEWSWIRE)

After nearly two days of searching, the body of a third person killed in a Tuesday avalanche at Silver Mountain was found using a radar emitter slung from the bottom of a helicopter.

RECCO technology is a passive reflector that is increasingly found embedded in clothing and boots.

This is how it works: A RECCO detector – either a handheld device or a larger device designed for helicopters – emits a “directional radar signal, like the beam of a flashlight.”

The reflector, embedded in clothing or boots, echoes the signal back and points the rescuers to the person or object.

On Tuesday, Dr. Molly Hubbard was found when Two Bear Air, a privately funded search-and-rescue operation based out of Whitefish, Montana, used a RECCO device designed specifically for helicopters.

Although RECCO technology has been used in Europe for years, it’s relatively new to the United States.

Paul Fish, owner of Mountain Gear in Spokane, said he started seeing RECCO appear in clothing and apparel about four years ago.

“I think it first showed up in boots and then started moving to clothing and packs,” he said.

But, as of yet, RECCO is not a good substitute for avalanche beacons, which emit a pulsed radio signal that can be received and pinpointed even when under the snow. That’s because the detectors used to spot the RECCO reflectors are not common. Silver Mountain does not have any, and Schweitzer Mountain has just two handheld devices.

Instead, RECCO technology is best for recovery.

“Personally I’ve always looked at it as a recovery item, not a lifesaving product,” Fish said.

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