A river outfitter in the New Jersey town of Frenchtown used his wits and smart-phone translation technology to avert disaster this week.
Scott Johnson, 46, a retired state trooper who has lived in Frenchtown all his life, was leaving the Frenchtown Roller Rink with his son on Sunday, June 30th, at 1 p.m. While he was leaving his driveway, he observed the view across Route 29 towards the Kingwood Boat Ramp and noticed a family preparing to swim in the Delaware River.
He stated that he “saw a litter of floats and things there and a family kind of milling around them. And I just said to my son, ‘They can’t go on the river… This isn’t going to end well.’ Somebody just died in Knowlton the day before.”
There has been a recent spate of incidents in which swimmers and boaters were overwhelmed by the river’s notorious undercurrents. Just two weeks previously, a 70-year old Illinois man drowned while canoeing on the rain-swollen Delaware River in Lower Mount Bethel Township, Northampton. A few days later two teenagers drowned in a pickup truck after it swerved off the road to avoid another car and plunged down an embankment into the river.
Johnson drove into the boat ramp’s parking lot thinking, “Holy cow! These are pool toys that are about to go out on the river. They weren’t even really rafts, just single-hulled vinyl toys.” Johnson went up to “an older gentleman” and asked if he was going into the river.
“He said, ‘No English,’ so I tried making motions: It’s dangerous, you’ll drown, whatever. But he just said, ‘No English’” Mr. Johnson stated.
Luckily Mr. Johnson was able to think quickly and asked the would-be swimmers which language they spoke – to which they replied “Russian”.
“All right,” Johnson thought, “how do I tell this guy — Ah! I’ve got my phone. It’s got Google Translate. I never tried it before.”
He typed in the story of a previous drowning in Warren County; that the current was too fast; that their floats were unsafe and that the river was very high and a storm was on its way.
“You shouldn’t go,” Johnson concluded.
Another Russian man with two preschool girls came and joined the conversation and Johnson showed the translations to both men.
“They made some grateful smiles and some waving gestures and started packing up their stuff up. My son and I drove away”, Johnson explained. “I felt like I had to at least let them know because so many people who don’t know about the river unfortunately come here and die.”
Has anyone else had any experiences of machine translation helping people avoid dangerous situations? If so, we’d like to hear from you.