GPS Strands Nevada Couple Stranded in Snow

John and Starry Bush-Rhoads followed their GPS directions into Oregon forest.

December 28, 2009, 7:46 PM

Dec. 29, 2009— -- A Nevada couple who was rescued after three days stuck in their car on an unplowed road said it was GPS directions that led them deep into an Oregon forest.

John Rhoads, 65, and his wife, Starry Bush-Rhoads, 67, were heading home to Reno on Christmas Day from a trip to Oregon, using the GPS in their SUV as a guide for the 500-mile drive. But the GPS -- which makes travel so much easier for millions of Americans -- turned their trip home into a chilling lesson about relying on technology.

After following the directions onto a remote road, John Rhoads realized they were in trouble "when we noticed that the snow was getting deep and we were over 30 miles into this road. We thought we didn't have much farther to go."

The Rhoads' four-wheel-drive Toyota Sequoia became stuck in the snow in Winema-Fremont National Forest.

"We started to dig it out to get it so we could move on. We were successful in digging it out and moving farther down the road and we got stuck again," John Rhoads told "Good Morning America."

They then attempted to turn the car around and head back the way they came, but the car refused to budge. With their cell phones not picking up a signal, the couple sat in their SUV for three days.

As the hours ticked away, the temperature dropped below freezing. They saw no other living creature, except for a chipmunk.

They put on clothing packed from their trip and turned on the SUV's heater every few hours.

"We had plenty of food, but neither of us were very hungry," Starry Bush-Rhoads said, ticking off a list of snacks including lunch meat, salami and nuts. "We had to force each other to eat."

On Sunday, weather conditions apparently changed enough for their GPS-enabled cell phone to get a weak signal and relay coordinates to a dispatcher, Klamath County Sheriff Tim Evinger said.

Experts: Never Rely Solely on GPS

"GPS almost did them in and GPS saved them," Evinger said. "It will give you options to pick the shortest route. You certainly get the shortest route. But it may not be a safe route."

Garmin, the manufacturer of the couple's GPS, issued a statement that read in part, "drivers must always remember that GPS provide route suggestions. They do not cause drivers to make driving decisions."

Evinger said a Lake County deputy found the couple in the forest outside the small town of Silver Lake on Sunday afternoon and pulled their Toyota out of the snow with a winch.

That deputy, Tom Roark, said the Rhoads were lucky.

"Who knows what would have happened if they would have been up there for a few more days." he said.

Being stranded in an Oregon winter can be deadly. In 2006, the Kim family missed a turn, got lost in a remote section of Oregon and was snowbound for 10 days. James Kim died while he was walking to get help.

Experts at American Automobile Association say a GPS device should never be the only navigational tool in the car.

"You need a paper map as a backup, which is sort of going back to basics," AAA spokeswoman Yolanda Cole told "Good Morning America."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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