SPOKANE — Bob Burdett was on his bike just before noon on Sept. 15, heading to meet his son for an afternoon of mountain biking at Riverside State Park.
He was several miles from his South Hill home and was going to be early for his 12:30 p.m. rendezvous with his son. As he coasted to the bottom of Doomsday Hill, Burdett, 62, approached a turn at a little more than 20 mph.
His bike veered right. His body flew left.
Then his helmeted head hit the ground so hard it knocked him unconscious — hard enough for his Apple Watch to feel it.
“A hit that hard could have killed me if I weren’t wearing it,” Burdett said. He had to replace the helmet.
Burdett was bleeding profusely above his left eye. His shoulder and some ribs were put out of place. Road rash extended from his elbow to his shoulder.
Burdett’s memory went black moments before the crash. Then he woke up in an ambulance on the way to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.
His Apple Watch had called 911 through the fall-detection feature, which sends out an alert if the wearer is immobile for 60 seconds after a fall.
His watch messaged emergency medical services at 12:02 p.m., and an ambulance was there within a minute.
Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said Burdett’s crash is the first instance he’s aware of in Spokane where an Apple Watch alerted 911 to a hard fall.
“I think it’s just another opportunity for the fire service to leverage technology and use it to improve people’s lives,” Schaeffer said.
Spokane Valley Fire Department spokesperson Julie Happy said dispatchers did not recall an instance where an Apple Watch had alerted medical personnel to an accident scene.
As opposed to social media or GPS tracking apps, Schaeffer said the Apple Watch fall-detection feature offers extra reassurance by not relying on a person to alert first responders.
“It calls 911 automatically, which is pretty remarkable,” said Schaeffer, who uses the feature himself.
The Apple Watch also alerted Gabe Burdett that his dad had fallen.
Gabe Burdett saw the text as he pulled up to their meeting spot in Riverside State Park, but his dad was already being treated. He searched the bottom of Doomsday Hill and was headed back toward Riverside State Park when his dad’s location updated to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.
“It was amazing,” Gabe Burdett said. “I’m incredibly thankful.”
He said the crash might have been spotted by other people in the Doomsday Hill area if not by the Apple Watch. But he imagines things playing out differently if his dad had been knocked unconscious on a more remote section of trail that day without an Apple Watch.
“It’s worth the price of admission for a piece of hardware like that. It’s invaluable,” Gabe Burdett said.
He said he plans to buy his own Apple Watch.
Burdett was released from the hospital the evening after his crash with a concussion and some stitches above his eye. A week after his crash, he went for another ride.
“I tried to hop on the bike I crashed on and it definitely had a lot of issues,” he said with a laugh.
Burdett started cycling in 2015 and the health app on his phone motivated him to keep pushing himself harder.
“It became one of those things where I knew I was going to be riding alone a lot,” he said. The fall-detection feature “was the reason I bought the watch in the first place.”
“I didn’t know if it was going to work, but I guess it does,” he said.