A Hiker Lost in Wilderness is Left Behind After Rescue Pilot Takes His Call For Help as a "Hello Wave"

Man didn't seem excited enough.

A hiker lost in a Colorado forest was overlooked by the helicopter rescue crew looking for him because they mistook his waving for help as just saying hello, local media reported this week. Read on to find out what happened after that, and what you should do if you're ever lost in the wilderness and want to signify you need help.

Lost Hiker Eluded Searchers

CBS News Colorado

A group of hikers in Colorado called 911 on Sept. 8 after one of their members didn't return to camp the night before. Helicopter rescue crews started looking for the man immediately in the area between Surprise Lake and Upper Cataract Lake. A search started on the ground as well, but the group proceeded slowly, hampered by swampy, dense foliage. Ultimately, the pilot of a Blackhawk helicopter spotted someone they thought could be the missing hiker—then flew right on by. Read on to find out why.

Man Apparently Didn't Seem Excited Enough to See Rescuers

CBS News Colorado

As it turns out, the man didn't completely match the description given to searchers. What's more, he didn't seem frantic enough. "[The pilot] radioed that they had a subject that partially matched the description, but not completely," Anna Debattiste of the Summit County Rescue Group told CBS News Colorado. His backpack wasn't the same color. CBS News Colorado reporter Spencer Wilson detailed what happened then: "Basically, the Blackhawk pilot looked down, saw someone who kind of matched the description of who they were looking for, and the man looked back up, kind of lackadaisically waved hello, so the pilot said, 'I guess he's fine,' and then flew off." "The pilot said, 'He's saying hi, he doesn't seem to be in distress,' so they left," said Debattiste.

When Lost, Make Big Gestures


Experts say—and this incident is proof—that if you're lost or need help and a plane is in sight, look alive out there. Which is to say: Make it very clear that you need help; this is not the time for subtlety. "An effective way to signal a helicopter is with big gestures such as waving both arms vigorously over one's head, or waving a bright-colored piece of clothing," survival expert James Mandeville told People.com. Raising both hands over your head is recognized internationally as a call for help. 

Man Found Safe


In this case, a potential tragedy was averted. Searchers on the ground found the man and brought him to safety. He was tired, dehydrated, and cold, but not seriously injured. Debattiste said the man made two smart moves: At night, he stayed in one place to avoid danger; in the morning, he moved out into the open so rescuers could find him. 

How to Avoid Getting (and Staying) Lost in the Woods


According to survival experts, the most important lesson to learn from the incident is that if you're planning an excursion into the woods, bring a map, compass, GPS, or smartphone. The lost hiker didn't have any of those tools which could have helped him navigate his way back to camp.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more
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