Imagine you’re a hunter who is hopelessly lost in the backcountry. After hours of stumbling through dense underbrush and a sleepless night in the woods, you finally hear the whop-whop-whop of a rescue helicopter flying overhead. After thanking your lucky stars, you look up at the chopper and wave. The rescue crew, assuming you’re just waving hello, waves back, flies away, and you’re left alone in the woods yet again.
This scene could be pulled straight out of a movie, but it’s exactly what happened earlier this week when a Colorado hunter almost missed being rescued because the helicopter crew thought he was just waving hello.
According to CBS Colorado, emergency responders first received the 911 call on Wednesday morning, Sept. 14. The caller explained that one of the members of their hunting party was missing and never returned to their camp the previous night. They were camping west of the Continental Divide somewhere between Surprise Lake and Upper Cataract Lake.
After a helicopter crew from a local hospital flew out and failed to locate the missing hunter, they contacted Summit County Rescue Group. The volunteer rescue organization sent out a Blackhawk helicopter along with a ground crew, and the helicopter crew eventually spotted a man out in the open who mostly fit the missing hunter’s description.
“[The pilot] radioed that they had a subject that partially matched the description, but not completely only because his backpack was upside down, so it was the wrong color,” SCRG’s Anna Debattiste told CBS.
The real issue though, as Debattiste explained, was that the hunter waved up at the helicopter casually. The pilot and crew figured he was just another hiker waving hello, so they left him there and flew away.
Fortunately for the lost hunter, rescuers with SCRG’s ground crew located him soon after the missed pick-up attempt. The man was in good condition—aside from being tired, cold, and dehydrated—and the crew was able to get him out of the woods later that afternoon.
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Although the story had a happy ending, Debattiste told reporters she wanted to use the incident as a learning opportunity. In the technological age of personal locator beacons and push-button SOS signals, the old-fashioned ways of signaling for help—like lighting fires or clacking stones together—have seemingly become less important. But the fact is that any person who spends time in the backcountry should know how to properly signal for help.
Debattiste explained that what the lost hunter should have done in that situation was wave aggressively back and forth, over and over again, with both arms raised high over his head.
“Or [he could have] waved a brightly colored piece of clothing,” she added. “Something to say ‘Hey! I’m the guy you’re looking for!’”