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After nine dropped cell phone calls for help, couple dies

An elderly couple desperately tries to use their cell phone to call for help after their car becomes stuck in a ditch just 20 yards from their home. The calls aren't connected. The lack of help leads to their deaths.

Cell phone towers do exist in the mountains. Here's one in Wyoming.

The facts serve only to frustrate and sadden.

An elderly couple was exiting the driveway of their remote vacation home in Andes, N.Y., when their car got stuck in a ditch.

What followed, according to the New York Daily News, challenges the imagination.

They couldn't get out. So they used their cell phone to call for help. The calls kept dropping. Relatives believe there had been five calls at this stage.

So 88-year-old Arthur Morris tried to scramble his way out of the car, but he got stuck in between the bottom of the door and the ground and died of asphyxiation.

His 89-year-old wife, Madeleine, managed to get out, and tried to use to phone four more times, again without a call getting through.

She then seems to have left the phone behind and walked to a neighbor's house, but the neighbor had already left. So she covered herself with a blue plastic tarp. However, during the night's rain, she died of exposure.

It is easy for those who look at this objectively to talk of all the things the couple could or should have done.

But the saddest part of the tale is that in an era when it seems that technology knows all and acts as if it can do all, there are still considerable parts of the world where there is little to no cell phone signal.

In this case, their grandson had bought them a phone from AT&T, in the belief that a network from such a large carrier would offer the best chance of a signal in that remote area. But locals reportedly say no carrier has much of a signal in those mountains.

The Daily News reported that two years ago, Scott Murphy, then a Congressman, offered a public appeal to carriers to improve service in Delaware County. It seems he did not succeed.

Margaretville Telephone Company provides a landline service to the area. Its General Manager, Glenn Faulkner told the Daily News that it too had been trying to do something about cell service, but that that it was very hard persuading the likes of AT&T and Verizon to deliver cell towers to remote areas.

I have contacted AT&T to get its point of view and will update if and when the company responds. (Editor's note: See below.)

It is sometimes the case that locals in beautiful areas, when faced with the prospect of a cell tower, don't always warm to the prospect.

Equally, though, it so often comes down to money. Why put up a tower in a difficult place where there are relatively few people?

"Because you should" never seems like much of an answer, does it?

Update, 9:49 a.m. PT: AT&T's Steven Schwadron told me: "Our thoughts and sympathies go out to the Morris family during this extremely difficult time. Wireless coverage in mountainous and remote areas is an industrywide challenge, and AT&T, along with other carriers, are continually striving to improve service levels in those areas."