Woman plans husband’s rescue in US from Kampala

Ms Sylvia Kakyo and her husband Casey Ryan. Photos/ Courtesy

What you need to know:

  • Casey’s truck was already struggling in the deep snow but he had stopped and helped. His truck dug into the snow, backed up into a ditch and got stuck. No amount of snow ploughing would change their fortunes.

Sylvia Kakyo, a businesswoman who runs a tour agency where she connects Americans to Uganda, was up very early, working on her computer on a Monday morning when she heard her phone ping. Time check, 4:59am. 

It was a text message from her husband in the US. Kakyo was here in Uganda, visiting her family with their four children so text messages at odd hours were nothing to fret about considering the two different time zones (Uganda is 10 hours ahead of the US). But this was not a message that one casually sends to a loved one. It read:

“I’m sending my phone in the sky with my drone. I hope this message gets through. This isn’t an emergency. We are okay, but we are stuck 25 miles in the mountains directly at Box Canyon… I love you and I’m so sorry this has happened. We are okay. We are safe. Send a tow. Call AAA.”
Kakyo instantly knew that this was an emergency message that was veiled to sound casual. Her husband, Casey Ryan, was stuck in snow in his 4X4 truck, in a forested mountain range in Oregon, 30 miles from civilisation. The time in Oregon was 7pm and darkness was falling fast. 
“I was overcome with worry. It was minus 11 degrees celsius in snowy conditions and it was getting dark. I was so scared. I was stressed because the winter was so bad in the West Coast at the time that people were dying of hypothermia in California,” Kakyo says. 
Adrenaline kicked in. Kakyo swung into action and started calling their friends in the US so they could contact rescue services. But her husband didn’t know this. When he sent the message, the notification he got was that it had not been delivered.  

The dilemma
Casey, a professional photographer, had spent this wintery Sunday in a forest taking nature pictures. Keeping him company was his dog and a friend. On their way out of the forest, they had found a woman stranded in a motorhome, stuck in snow for the previous 24 hours. 

Casey’s truck was already struggling in the deep snow but he had stopped and helped. His truck dug into the snow, backed up into a ditch and got stuck. No amount of snow ploughing would change their fortunes.
They tried to call for rescue but they were in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone signal. Casey considered hiking to a nearby hill, hoping it would be high enough to give him a signal but he changed his mind seeing that the snow was waist deep, in sub-zero temperatures. 

Casey’s car which was stuck in the snow.

In a last-ditch effort, Casey had had to tether his phone on a drone, pilot it high up in the air to be able to reach enough height to receive signal and send the text he had typed. However, when the drone landed in his hands again, he was notified that the message hadn’t been delivered. 

Frantic calls
Kakyo, back in Kampala, was battling a multitude of emotions including being very upset. She was angry because she had advised him not to go to the forest in these weather conditions but he had gone anyway. 

Few minutes after the first message, she received a second one that read: 
“Hey, sweetie, I don’t know if these messages are making it to you because they are not delivered. I’m praying that you are reading them because, and if you are, please send an exact time that you think they’re showing up because I don’t know.”
It added: “I love you so much. Thanks for working so hard.”
Kakyo spent all morning calling friends in the US, to see if someone could help. Meanwhile, in the Oregon forest, it was now totally dark and the temperatures were dropping further.

“Most numbers I called were off because it was nighttime. I sent out messages hoping that one of the people would be on the phone to read it and respond, all in vain. I called AAA Road Rescue but they said they couldn’t help because they didn’t have the capability to go off-road in snowy conditions. So I called 911 and ended up connecting to Uganda Police. I hang up and called another friend who fortunately picked up. She’s the one that called the Lane County search and rescue team,” she narrates.
This was good news finally. Unfortunately, it was already too late for them (10pm) to go up the mountains. So they promised to start on the mission the next day. Her husband, the dog and the friend would have to spend the night in the car. But now they were at least sure that they were not forgotten. The hope would keep them alive. 

“I am so proud of my husband for coming up with a great rescue mission by teaming a drone and a cell phone to seek help. My appreciation goes to the Lane County Rescue Team,” Kakyo says. 
At 3:23pm the next day, almost 24 hours after they had got stuck, the rescue team finally arrived. They had almost lost hope at the time but Kakyo kept awake, assuring them that help was on the way. She had successfully coordinated a rescue mission that saved her husband’s life from her bedroom in Kampala, 10,000 miles away from the emergency situation.