The iPhone App That Helped Save Algerian Hostages in the Desert

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Make fun of iPhone 5s and their terrible maps all you want, but the next time you're in an Algerian hostage situation, running for your life 20 miles across the dessert with almost no water and no real idea where to go, remember that Apple phone's native Compass app just may save your life. That's one of the things we gleaned from The New York Times's interview with Liviu Floria, one of the gas workers trapped at BP's facility last week:

After nearly two days of hiding from the hostage-takers, Mr. Floria and seven others decided their only chance at survival would come from climbing the fence and running away. They left around 2 a.m. for what became a harrowing desert trek, guided only by the flickering flame atop a gas well in the distance and a compass application on Mr. Floria’s iPhone.

It's certainly not your average desert survival story — water, mirage, the stars as your guide — but these days you really can use an iPhone in the middle of nowhere? The Times's Nicholas Kulish adds:

Fortunately, the iPhone app worked without a cellular signal. They walked over barren terrain of sand and rocks and small hills, from about 2 a.m. until the late afternoon with only short breaks.

As Reuters notes, Floria walked for about 20 miles "with little water." The BP gas plant (pictured at right toward the top) is just outside the town of In Amenas and more than 100 miles from Algiers. The app eventually led Floria and three of his fellow hostages to a temporary building near a gas well, and a road where they thought they were in danger once more. But the men at the end of the road turned out to be Algerian security officers who got them to the American military transport. And their story turned out to be one of the most breathtaking of many hostage survival stories — explosive-laden vests, blaming the U.S government — to come out of last week's confusing situation, and event made all the more confusing, it appears, because it happened virtually in the middle of nowhere. But there's an app for that.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.