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Cell phone 'ping' helps police rescue distraught student Signal led searchers to semi-conscious man

A "ping" from a cell phone saved the life of a Buffalo college student who may have been trying to harm himself Saturday evening, police said.

At 6:30 p.m. Saturday, the student's father, who lives in Ohio, called Buffalo police in a panic after he received a call from his son who said he was distraught over breaking up with his girlfriend and that he planned to take his life.

As soon as the father contacted Buffalo authorities, he began driving to Buffalo to find his son.

Meanwhile, patrol officers began looking for the student, who was believed to have taken off in his car.

About the same time, a police official contacted the student's cell phone provider, Sprint, to get help in locating the young man.

Sprint workers were able to get an electronic "ping" from the phone. That, in turn, provided the phone's precise longitude and latitude, police said.

Sprint checked for a "ping" a second time to determine whether the location had changed. It was in the same location.

Police officials plugged the coordinates from Sprint into the Google Web site's mapping function, which showed them that the cell phone was at a remote section of Niagara Street, near the foot of Ontario Street.

Northwest district officers raced to the scene and found the student's car a little before 8 p.m., police said. The young man was inside the vehicle, in a semi-conscious state.

Police said he apparently had taken a bottle of sleeping pills and another highly toxic substance.

A Rural Metro ambulance was dispatched to the scene, and the student was taken to Erie County Medical Center for treatment, police said.

Police then called the student's father on his cell phone to relay the news that his son was still alive and that he was being taken care of at the hospital.

"Technology saved him," said a police official, who asked not to be identified.

Cell phone "pings" also have played a pivotal role in rescue efforts out West.

Earlier this month, a ping helped a helicopter search party locate a mother and her two young daughters who had been snowbound in their car in Oregon for nine days. The body of the girls' father was found two days later; he had died after setting out on foot trying to get help.

And another set of search-and-rescue teams in Oregon are hopeful a ping detected on Mount Hood will lead them to three climbers who have been missing on the snow-covered mountain since Dec. 8.

e-mail: mbecker@buffnews.com

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