Did Google Earth really help find a woman stranded on an island 7 years? No, folks, the story of Gemma Sheridan's alleged discovery by a young Minnesota boy who recognized an SOS symbol while using Google Earth is completely false. Just add it to a long list of hoaxes to hit the internet in the few months of 2014.
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So how did the fake story about a woman trapped on an island for 7 years and then found by Google Earth get started? The responsibility falls squarely on the website, New Hound, which, while to some may sound like a legitimate news source, it's far from it. Here's an excerpt from the News Hound story to get you up to speed:
"In 2007, Gemma Sheridan and 2 friends set out on a voyage that was to take them from their home town of Liverpool, across the Atlantic to the Panama Canal and then onwards to the beautiful island of Hawaii.
The first stage of the voyage went without incident. However, after passing through the Panama Canal and into the Pacific, things started to take a turn for the worse.
There was a huge storm that took out the boats electronics and washed her 2 friends overboard and seriously damaged her boat. Without any electronics and with a damaged boat, Gemma drifted for 17 days until she was hit by another major storm. During the storm, Gemma was knocked unconscious and the rest is history.
Gemma awoke on a beach, surrounded by wreckage from her boat.
Here is a short account of some of the things she endured:
Within the first hour I had a major panic attack. It was a disturbing feeling, being alone, isolated, so far from home without a hope.
I had been on water rations for the last 2 weeks, so finding water was the first priority. There where no pools of fresh water, so I had to rig up a contraption that drew the water away from the rock and it provided for one drop every 40 seconds. That was my water source, so it was coconuts until it rained. Not a great start.
The amount of energy everything took was massively beyond what I expected. And it was mentally taxing.
For the first 2 weeks I stayed in a mock shelter i made from debris that washed ashore. I needed to find real shelter, I found a large tree that looked perfect. I nibbled away at the bark of a tree with a giant clam shell for 11 days just to build a shelter. It might have been bomb-proof and waterproof in the end and it's probably still standing but if I'd had a machete, just that one tool, I would have been able to build it in a few hours.
It was four weeks before I managed to light a fire - you have no idea how happy that made me."
The post goes on at length describing the stranded woman's struggle to survive after being trapped on this deserted island in the middle of the ocean. Towards the end of the account, the alleged Gemma Sheridan shares her incredible rescue story.
"I woke up 1 morning to the sound of a plane flying over me which was unusually low, I could not believe it, I thought it was a dream. I ran to the beach screaming and waving my arms like a lunatic, the plane flew over 2 or 3 more times and then dropped a small package.
Inside was a radio, fresh water, food and a small medical kit. I switched on the radio and heard the first human voice for years. We talked for what seemed like an eternity, then I asked the voice on the other end "How did you find me" to which they replied "Some kid from Minnesota found your SOS sign on Google Earth"
I didn't even know what Google Earth was, but I'm eternally in their debt now.
Share this amazing story with your friends."
As a writer, I have seen any number of these viral hoaxes surface, and this story is practically overflowing with clues to its lacking credibility.
The most tell tale sign, however, being the picture attached along with the story. The photo, which was described as being what the Minessota boy saw on Google Earth, showed an SOS symbol etched in what appears to be sand, and while the photo is authentic, it isn't relevant to this tale. The photo, in fact, dates back to 2010. The photo was first published by Amnesty International to accompany an article about destructive violence in southern Kyrgyzstan.
Nonetheless, the story has spread far and wide. It has been shared and sought so often on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, many users who try to access it find the site down or unresponsive.
Though the story of a woman stranded for 7 years on an island and then found by Google Earth is not the biggest hoax to hit social media this year, it has certainly positioned itself well to be one of the largest as it has been shared thousands of times across social media and is still being shared heavily.
If you happen to see someone spreading the false story about a woman rescued by Google Earth after being trapped 7 years, maybe direct them to this article so they can get their facts straight.
Twitter Discusses "GOOGLE EARTH FINDS WOMAN TRAPPED ON DESERTED ISLAND FOR 7 YEARS."
Can someone confirm if this is real?! Google Earth Finds Woman Trapped On Deserted Island For 7 Years http://t.co/EDEKYS4vNb
— Dana Smith (@SmithDanaG) March 20, 2014
@Joe_ExpCols Did you see that story about a kid using google earth & saving a woman lost stranded on an island?
— Erin Maher (@glitterandchalk) March 20, 2014
CRAZY! Real life Cast Away! Google Earth Finds Woman Trapped On Deserted Island For 7 Years | News-Hound http://t.co/61LesGoilj
— Erin Stout (@erin_stout11) March 20, 2014
Kid From Minnesota Finds Woman Trapped On Deserted Island For 7 Years On Google Earth From "S.O.S." Sign In Sand http://t.co/WZdWCgnIog
— Albion Williams Jr. (@AlbionWilliams) March 20, 2014
Kids find a woman stranded on a desert island via Google Earth http://t.co/ReDdHRAamy
— Norm (@MrDirby) March 19, 2014
In other news, Google Earth finds a woman that was stranded alone on an island for 7 years. http://t.co/VZsec5uFHn
— Nappy Gilmore (@dyllyp) March 19, 2014