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Google Earth shipwreck rescue hoax may lead to useful software developments

Where there’s life there’s hope, or at least where there’s an internet connection and the aid of the all-seeing eye of Google Earth. In what sounds like a rerun of a ‘Lost’ episode, Google Earth (more likely to assist with 3D inner city directions than cross-continental rescues) was involved in a viral hoax claiming it helped find a shipwrecked traveller after seven solitary years in the Panama Canal.

Here’s how the story goes – Gemma Sheridan had began her adventures in 2007 with two friends. Their trip of a lifetime would see the native Liverpudlians travel from the UK, across the Atlantic to the Panama Canal and finally to Hawaii.  Things were going to plan until a terrible storm turned the dream voyage into a nightmare and her friends were swept overboard into the Pacific. Without electronics, alone and on a very badly damaged boat, Sheridan drifted in the ocean un-contactable for 17 days until a further storm swept her overboard after knocking her unconscious.

The rest of this terrifying story truly is the stuff of movies. Sheridan woke unconscious on the Panamanian coastline and from that point on fended for herself for seven years. According to news-hound.org, part of Sheridan’s survival involved having “to rig up a contraption that drew the water away from the rock and it provided for one drop every 40 seconds.” And that was just the beginning of a seven year ordeal that saw her hunt and kill goats without weaponry, build shelter without tools and somehow maintain a firm grasp on her sanity with no human contact.

SOS - wafflesatnoon.com

SOS – wafflesatnoon.com

Attempts at ‘being found’failed as not a single plane passed overhead in all those years, rendering the 10ft sign she had constructed absolutely useless and an even more elaborate ‘SOS’ sign that had taken weeks to make only made any impact thanks to “some kid from Minnesota”  who had seen the international cry for help on Google Earth and alerted a team that could do something about it . After dropping a small package of food, fresh water, medical supplies and a radio down to her, Sheridan was able to hear the human voice (besides her own) that she had heard since 2007 and hope, determination and a little help from a satellite mapping tool, saved the day.

The nail-biting account, although largely believed to be a complete fallacy, has sparked some interesting questions about how Google Earth could purposefully be utilised in this way. Responses across the internet include a suggestion that an algorithm be created to pick up ‘SOS’ signs – thus making quick work of real rescue missions.

Time will tell if one very elaborate hoax ends up being the catalyst for some very useful software.

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