When Grizzly Bear Hunting Goes Wrong, the Breitling Emergency Helps

What happens when a group of grizzly bear hunters is stranded in the Alaskan wilderness? Captain Mark Spencer faced that very question in August 2012. Here’s the story:

Spencer was leading a group of fellow hunters down Alaska’s Susitna River. When the group encountered class 5 rapids their vessel couldn’t handle, they diverted their ship to a nearby river, only to become stuck in the shallow water. Stranded in the woods, Spencer left his crew in search of help.

Mark Spencer with his Breitling Emergency

Mark Spencer with his Breitling Emergency

Spencer battled the rapids of the Susitna River until a glacier poked a hole in his boat. Stranded alone in the rough Alaskan country, the rescuer suddenly needed rescuing—or face death at nature’s 400-750 pound paws (see below).

What we imagine a bear attack would look like

Stranded miles from civilization and his crew, Spencer staggered through the wilderness until he deployed both his emergency locator transmitter and the antenna in his Breitling Emergency watch. After 48 hours, a Black Hawk helicopter swooped in for a rescue. According to Breitling, the helicopter wasn’t thanks to the emergency locator transmitter (ELT)—as a matter of fact, the ELT led rescuers to a location 4 miles away from Spencer. His rescue was directly attributable to his watch, the Breitling Emergency Transmitter A73321.

The Black Hawk helicopter sent to rescue Spencer and his hunting party


The Rescue

It’s worth noting that at this point, stories aren’t consistent about whether Spencer accepted his Black Hawk helicopter rescue. At least one news outlet states Spencer turned down his rescue (raising the question of why Spencer would deploy both his ELT and Breitling Emergency’s antenna), though it quotes Spencer as saying,

Breitling is the number one piece of equipment I always bring with me. Even if I lose everything, I will always have my watch. That gives me and my family peace of mind.

Regardless of whether Spencer accepted his Black Hawk helicopter rescue, it was a great opportunity to explore how the Breitling Emergency works.


The Breitling Emergency

When Breitling introduced the Emergency in 1995, it was the first of its kind—a wristwatch with an internal locator beacon made specifically for professional pilots. It was developed in conjunction with several scientific institutes and tested on search and rescue exercises, giving it serious professional credentials. In terms of its design, the original Breitling Emergency bears a lot of resemblance to its predecessor, the Aerospace, with the dial’s integrated digital LCD display and quartz battery.

With the special edition Emergency Mission (the same A73321 that Mark Spencer wore), Breitling pivoted to a more civilian audience with a classic-looking chronograph dial.

To use the antenna, you unscrew the big cap below the crown and remove it to activate the beacon. You then tie the antenna to a tree branch (or some other high location)—the beacon emits a distress signal at 121.5MHz (the aircraft emergency frequency) for 100 miles over a period of 48 hours.


So if you find yourself stranded in the remote wilderness, a Breitling Emergency might be your best bet for making it out alive. Just make sure it’s a real emergency, otherwise, those search-and-rescue crews might cost you a pretty penny.


This article was originally published on Feb 15, 2013. We’ve updated it for accuracy and relevancy.

Image Credits: Header, 4-7; Crown & Caliber. 1, 3; PRNewsFoto/Breitling. 2; Wikimedia Commons.

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  • a neurosurgeon pilot friend of mine has this watch. it’s an interesting piece.