Missing person turns out to be a watch

A large group of emergency responders, comprised of police, fire, and Wilton CERT personnel, conducted a missing-person search Tuesday evening, Jan. 19, only to find out later that the distress signal they were told about was actually the GPS beacon of a high-end watch.

Headquartered in Wilton, Breitling USA is an international supplier of technical watches and chronographs. According to Lt. Stephen Brennan of the Wilton Police Department, it was a watch in the company’s 206 Danbury Road location that emitted the signal.

“We weren’t sure what type of signal it was at first,” Brennan said, “so we performed an area search.”

Connecticut State Police called Wilton police headquarters around 6 p.m. on Jan. 19 to report they’d detected a distress beacon near Cannon Road and Old Boston Road, possibly from a private aircraft or a person in the area.

Four Wilton police cruisers and three Wilton fire department units were dispatched, along with 23 CERT members. An additional nine firefighters were called, among them the Wilton Fire Dive, who deployed their boat to search the reservoir.

The New Canaan Police Department aided with seven police, including its K-9 unit. A New Canaan fire unit also responded.

The search team canvassed the area of the reservoir, including the 2nd Taxing Water District, for three hours, but nothing was found. State police called and said they were no longer receiving a distress signal.

But around 3 in the morning, they called back to advise of a second distress signal activation in the area of Old Huckleberry Road. This time, four police cruisers and two fire department units were dispatched. They searched for one hour and again found nothing.

At 6:30 a.m., state police called Wilton headquarters for the third and final time, to advise that they located the source of the distress beacon. Apparently, it had come from a Breitling watch that features a distress beacon as one of its functions.

According to Brennan, the false alarm was caused by Breitling staff conducting a demonstration of the distress beacon. This was disputed, however, by Breitling USA President Thierry Prissert.

“The Breitling Emergency watch is the world’s first wristwatch with a dual frequency locator beacon,” Prissert told The Bulletin. “Yesterday, we received a Breitling Emergency watch, which had the antenna removed to send to our headquarters in Switzerland for repair. While in our vault, the dual-frequency transmitter sent digital and analog signals to local authorities.”