June 29, 2002

Freezing mountaineer saved by telemarketer

BOGOTA, Colombia (Reuters) -- A hiker is stranded in South America's Andes mountains when a blizzard begins. He reaches into his backpack for his cell phone -- only to find his prepaid minutes are up.

The Colombian mountaineer slowly begins freezing to death, surviving for 24 hours with his only warmth coming from carefully measured doses of brandy. Then suddenly, at above 12,500 feet, Leonardo Diaz hears a familiar ring.

Out of nowhere, a phone company solicitor is calling on his cell phone, asking if he would like to buy more time.

"We called him to remind him that his cell phone was out of minutes. He said it was the work of an angel, because he was lost in the (Andes)," said Maria del Pilar Basto, the BellSouth operator who called Leonardo.

Basto called for help, and she and other operators kept ringing Leonardo to keep him awake and help ward off hypothermia. He was able to keep talking to her until rescue teams arrived seven hours later -- with the frigid temperatures acting as a natural recharger for his cell phone batteries.

"I remembered that when I was a boy I put batteries in the freezer," Diaz said in a newspaper interview describing his late May adventure. "So, I took off (the dead) battery and flung it into the snow. After half an hour, it was working again."

Diaz was not answering his cell phone on Thursday.


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