There would be nothing more reassuring to a lost hiker waving his hand at a rescue helicopter knowing rescue is imminent. Except that in the case of a lost hiker in Colorado last weekend, the helicopter proceeds to turn and fly away.
Unthinkable, but that’s exactly what happened last week when, as reported to CBS affiliate KCNC-TV, one of the members of a hiking group traveling between Surprise Lake and Upper Cataract Lake in Colorado failed to return to camp the prior evening.
With an initial aerial search turning up nothing, a Blackhawk search helicopter was then dispatched in a continued attempt to find the missing hiker. The helicopter pilot spotted what could have been the missing hiker. But, according to Summit County Rescue Group’s Anna Debattiste, the pilot didn’t think that this backpacker was the missing person due to the fact, according to Debattiste, that the “backpack was turned upside down, so it was the wrong color.”
To add to the confusion, the pilot indicated that he really didn’t believe that the person spotted was the lost hiker. This was because the backpacking trekker only casually raised a hand to the pilot flying, not really what you would call a panicked reaction of frantically waving both arms with relief of a rescue on the horizon. In fact, Debattiste clarified that, “The pilot said, ’He’s saying hi, he doesn’t seem to be in distress,’ so they left.”
But all’s well that ends well, as a ground team ultimately found the lost hiker, a little worse for wear, tired and dehydrated, but generally in good health.
Survival experts say the best way to signal to a search aircraft that you are in trouble and need help is to raise both hands over your head, as that is recognized internationally as a call for help. On the other hand (pun intended), raising only one hand in the air, with the other pointed at the ground signals to the rescue team that their support is not needed. A lesson that this hiker has now likely learned. Keep that in mind on your next journey on the hiking trail.