Was Liam Neeson’s Homing Watch Real?

Fact-checking the miracle device from “The Grey”
Staff Writer

If you haven’t seen The Grey, a survival thriller starring Liam Neeson set in Alaska, you can save the cost of admission by skipping to the spoiler at the bottom of this post.

In the film, Liam Neeson and a band of swarthy roughnecks survive a plane crash only to find themselves stranded in The Middle Of Nowhere, Alaska. With man-eating Timberwolves baying in the distance, things look bleak.

But wait—there’s hope! One of the men has found a homing-beacon watch!

It would seem Hollywood has done it again—conjuring up an all-too-convenient product to fit an already far-fetched plotline. Is there such thing as a homing beacon-equipped watch that could possibly work out on the frozen tundra of Alaska? The short answer: Yes, sort of.

The watch in question is a Breitling “EMERGENCY” model, and as the capitalized spelling suggests, it’s a serious watch. Problem is, they don’t make it any more, and the Cospas-Sarsat satellite system—an international search-and-rescue band—stopped tracking the EMERGENCY’s 121.5 mHZ signal back in 2005.

The international SARSAT protocal (search-and-rescue satallite) has since changed from a VHF (Very High Frequency) 121.5 MHz band to a more advance digital-combined 406 MHz signal, which is in the UHF (Ultra High Frequency) range.

That said, aircraft still can—and do—pick up 121.5 mHZ signals, but that’s little consolation when you’ve been thrown hundred of miles off course and are stranded in an Arctic wasteland well away from flightpaths.

An authorized Breitling retailer that The Active Times called for comment stated that the company was working on releasing a new, updated version of the EMERGENCY watch that works on a modern SARAT band in the very near future. Soon enough, in fact, that they were keeping a list of interested customers to contact once the new model is released. Considering that the $5,000-plus original, which first became available in 1995, required a pilot's license to purchase, we declined to get on the waitlist.

As for the movie, if you still want to go see it, stop right here.

Spoiler alert: everyone dies.

The watch was likely never going to save them. And because LIam Neeson’s “escape plan” ended up leading his ever-dwindling posse of survivors deep into the Timeberwolf den, and certain death, it doesn’t really matter, anyway.

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