Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Shipwrecked British woman 'saved by Google Earth': Why there's something fishy about story of Gemma Sheridan rescued from desert island

The extraordinary story of Gemma Sheridan...but is there something fishy about the tale?
The extraordinary story of Gemma Sheridan...but is there something fishy about the tale?

The extraordinary story of Gemma Sheridan, a woman from Liverpool saved by Google Earth after seven years stranded on a desert island, has whipped up a storm among social media users – despite being quite spectacularly fake.

Posted on the website News-Hound.org, it claimed Ms Sheridan and two friends had embarked on a voyage to Hawaii when they met bad weather, damaging the boat and knocking her unconscious.

According to the tale, she awoke to find herself on the beach of a remote island. Ms Sheridan then apparently spent seven years carving out a difficult survival before an SOS sign she made was spotted on Google Earth satellite images by “some kid from Minnesota”, at which point she was saved.

The article has been shared widely on Twitter – at times accompanied by “#truestory”, and with various messages along the lines of this from one user: “Thank you technology.”

Aside from the fairly incredible details involved in the story, the conspiracy theory and rumour-debunking website Waffles at Noon has pointed out a wide range of issues that show it is quite clearly a hoax.

Firstly, the so-called Google Earth picture of the “island” and its SOS message actually comes from a 2010 Amnesty International report on violence in Kyrgyzstan - the uncropped image shows buildings in the background.

The website News-Hound.org itself has, according to Waffles at Noon, a history of posting outlandish stories – and has put up articles which appear to pre-date the site’s own registration earlier this year.

Finally, the details of “Ms Sheridan’s” survival are not only fake but they are plagiarised – with huge chunks taken from a report into a Pacific island survival exercise undertaken by the explorer Ed Stafford.

There are some amazing true stories out there about survival over long periods at sea – sadly, this wasn’t one of them.

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