Cell phone inventor saves friend – with his phone
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado – Martin Cooper always expected everyone would have a cell phone one day. But he never imagined he’d use one to save a friend.
Cooper, now 82, is an avid skier – he owns a unit at the Liftside condos and put in more than 40 days on the mountain last season. But in industry circles, he’s also known as the father of the cell phone.
After years of working for Motorola on portable devices from pagers to police radios, Cooper led a team that created the first cell phone in just 90 days in 1973. He was the first person to make a cell phone call in public, in that year, and his name is on the original patent.
You could say Cooper knows a little bit about the business.
A couple of weeks ago, Cooper took Masami Yamamoto, a friend and business associate, for his first runs at Vail. It didn’t go well.
“We got off the first lift, I skied about 50 yards away and waited for him. He never showed up,” Cooper wrote in a story about the event he sent to the Vail Daily. “After searching everywhere I could, I headed home to get his cell phone number. When we finally connected by cell phone, I discovered that he had skied off the side of a run that was a sheer cliff that dropped 10 feet to a narrow ledge and then another several hundred feet of steep descent into a wooded area.
“Fortunately for him, his leg caught onto the rope that marked the edge of the run. He was hanging upside down, still wearing his skis and unable to remove them. He cried out for help to draw the attention of the passing skiers but, since the lifts had closed sometime earlier at 4 p.m. there was little traffic on the trail and he was not heard.”
Over the next 90 minutes or so, Cooper and Yamamoto exchanged several calls, with several more placed to the Vail Dispatch Center, often juggling two phones at once.
While Yamamoto’s phone had a GPS locator, but it wasn’t working well enough for rescuers to get a solid location. So the 75-year-old businessman dangled.
“He was my lifeline,” Yamamoto said of Cooper.
Yamamoto said he struggled to free himself for five or 10 minutes, then settled down to try to get help. He managed to keep his own phone in a zipped pocket when he wasn’t using it, and tried to explain where he was, no small task since it was his first time at Vail, and because the native of Japan discovered something about his language skills.
“I couldn’t give intelligent information,” Yamamoto said. “Speaking English upside-down is very difficult!”
The Vail Ski Patrol finally found Yamamoto a bit after 5 p.m. He was hoisted back off the ledge, then taken to Vail Valley Medical Center. Two days later, he was on a flight back to his home in California.
Both Yamamoto and Cooper praised the work of rescue crews, especially ski patroller Linsey Hinmon.
But the old friends still find it remarkable that the technology Cooper pioneered ended up playing such a big role in Yamamoto’s rescue. And, no, it isn’t unusual for Cooper to have two phones on him at once.
“Because I still speak a lot, I try every phone,” he said.
Cooper these days has a Jitterbug – a basic cell phone invented by his wife, Arlene Harris – as well as a Droid X. Cooper expects to get one of the new Windows 7 phones soon.
When Cooper and his team displayed the first cell phone, much of the technology we take for granted today hadn’t been invented yet. That leaves him amazed by today’s smart phones.
“But they may have gone a little too far,” he said. “They’re difficult to use, and a lot of people are excluded.” That explains the Jitterbug, he said.
Yamamoto is a veteran of the cell phone business, too – he licensed “smart antenna” technology from one of Cooper’s companies for use in Japan.
“It’s quite a coincidence,” Yamamoto said. “He developed the first cell phone, and then he saved me with one.”
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