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Visibility to helicopters if lost, stranded or injured
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Steven Paris
(saparisor) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Visibility to helicopters if lost, stranded or injured on 10/14/2013 23:18:38 MDT Print View

I've followed the recent and potentially-bad-ending experience of Alejandra Wilson ("Rocket Llama"), the PCT hiker who got stuck in a snowstorm near Mt. Adams. Her trailjournals entries (http://www.trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?id=436497) about her situation are an honest look at why and how she got stuck.

In another current thread, "Mylar Bath Tub Floor," Randy C. mentions Wilson and how she was basically invisible to a helicopter directly overhead. I also remember someone (Eric Chan?) posting a video a long time ago taken from a search helicopter, where they were directly above someone and just couldn't see them. I've been thinking about this, too.

I've been wondering if adding 1 oz into an emergency kit wouldn't be worth it; something like this, a dedicated emergency-use-only intensely-bright red light:

http://www.rei.com/product/823031/planet-bike-superflash-turbo-rear-bike-light

This thing is much brighter than the red lights on many headlamps/flashlights, which primarily seem to be for preserving night vision in the dark. This light is made as a signal.

Thoughts?

michael levi
(M.L) - F

Locale: W-Never Eat Soggy (W)affles
re on 10/14/2013 23:54:07 MDT Print View

With my windshirt I made sure to get a bright orange (Arc squamish) for this reason. If nothing else it helps other hikers keep an eye on you when they follow.

Rex Sanders
(Rex) - M

Locale: Central California Coast
Re: Visibility to helicopters if lost, stranded or injured on 10/14/2013 23:57:04 MDT Print View

A few thoughts:

- That bike light won't be visible very far during the day, which is when most SAR helicopters and planes fly. You need something intensely bright (like a strobe flash or signal mirror), and even then, surrounded by bright white snow, I have my doubts.

– A signal mirror can be lighter, and just as effective, if you learn how to use one. No batteries to go dead, works if you have direct sunshine. And you can use it for personal grooming in the back country – multi-use!

– If you really want to get rescued, get a PLB, like the Acrartex ResQLink PLB. SAR will find you if you set off one of these. Three redundant radio signals, plus a strobe light, in case they are looking for you at night.

– For more weight, expense, and other uses, consider a two-way satellite messenger with SOS button, like the DeLorme inReach SE or the Yellowbrick 3. See my BPL articles for more than you ever wanted to know about these devices.

-- Rex

Jeremy and Angela
(requiem) - F - M

Locale: Northern California
Re: Visibility to helicopters if lost, stranded or injured on 10/15/2013 01:11:39 MDT Print View

One of these guys is probably more effective:
http://www.greatlandlaser.com/rescue-laser-light.html

You can see some example views of just how well people can be seen from the air here:
http://bamru.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-view-from-above.html

What I've taken from this: if I need to signal a plane, it's Nazca Lines time!

john hansford
(jhansford) - MLife
Re: Visibility to helicopters if lost, stranded or injured on 10/15/2013 06:58:12 MDT Print View

The best colour marker is fluorescent orange. This is such an unnatural colour that a pilot's eye is attracted to it immediately. Lay out a 1sqm of material in an open space, and leave it there, don't wait until you hear the aircraft coming, and peg it out if at all windy. And don't bother waving it, that just makes it smaller.

A signal mirror is even better, if the sun is out and in the right direction. There is a type that shows a bright spot of natural light in the direction the reflection is going.

Best of all though is fire smoke, but you would need to either have a fire lit already, or to be able to light it immediately, and then throw on something to make lots of smoke. Ryan J has told us how to make fire on snow, so definitely worth a try.

If the aircraft is directly overhead then the crew can't see you, because the floor is in the way, unless they have a large bubble window, or someone is leaning out of a door.

David Olsen
(oware)

Locale: Steptoe Butte
Helicopter loggers on 10/15/2013 07:26:06 MDT Print View

To concur with the others.

My friend worked deep Alaska logging from Helicopters. They used mirrors and the pilot would get mad at them if they flashed more than once. They worked that well.

A large orange stuffsack can work as a signal/windsock for the pilot too.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
heatsheet on 10/15/2013 08:36:51 MDT Print View

bring something like a heat sheet ... orange one one side, reflective on the other ..

it works as a groundsheet, emergency VBL on cold nights, etc ... so its multiuse

theres been a few cases up here where SAR indicated that brightly colored items would have helped the search

;)

Erik Basil
(EBasil)

Locale: Atzlan
laser pointer on 10/15/2013 12:50:54 MDT Print View

I do carry a red-laser pointer that cost a dollar at...the dollar store, but it would be hard to directly "beam" a moving aircraft with it. Obviously, one would waggle. I also own a green laser that would be very easy to tag an aircraft with at night in an emergency (or otherwise) but it's too heavy and fragile to bother with on trail so far.

Otherwise, I have a bright yellow jacket, a tiny signal mirror and a headlamp that strobes.

peter vacco
(fluff@inreach.com) - M

Locale: no. california
Re: laser pointer .. ??? on 10/15/2013 13:01:35 MDT Print View

would not a person need to hit not only the airplane, but eye of the pilot/co-pilot ? and this, with a beam that makes it's living by remaining small and condensed. yes, the cheaper beams do spread, but the weaken quite a bit as well as they get bigger.
add to this the fact that there is no aiming system really, you just point the tube and hope.
on the other hand, it would work better at night than a mirror.
on yet a third hand, you need a mirror anyway in case something gets stuck in your eye.
sleeping bag bright yellow is a good idea, as is a yellow packraft.

i wear hunter orange gloves for the stated above reason. it's so odd a color that they stand out, making them harder to lose.
or, on yet a final and forth hand .. easier to find.

cheers,
v.

John Myers
(dallas) - F - MLife

Locale: North Texas
Re: laser pointer at aircraft on 10/15/2013 13:03:08 MDT Print View

SAR is different from fun and games, but this guy ended up in prison for doing that.

http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/25/us/california-laser-sentence/

Ken Thompson
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: Behind the Redwood Curtain
Re: Visibility to helicopters if lost, stranded or injured on 10/15/2013 14:37:08 MDT Print View

Smoke or mirrors are still the best visual. Look at these two pictures. In the first is the rescue helicopter cruising around looking for our camp. The second picture shows the size of the flag we were using to signal it. Even being in the small meadow waving that thing around in clear skies we were flown by twice before being spotted. First time I ever saw a helicopter land while flying backwards. Awesome pilot.


eee

llll


Nobody is looking for you at night.

Edited by kthompson on 10/15/2013 14:38:12 MDT.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Use camera flash on 10/15/2013 14:45:26 MDT Print View

Lots of maybes, but so far no-one has suggested the 'obvious'. Point your camera at the chopper and flash it. Several times if needed. The xenon strobe is kinda bright.

Cheers

Dena Kelley
(EagleRiverDee) - M

Locale: Eagle River, Alaska
"Visibility to helicopters if lost, stranded or injured" on 10/15/2013 17:38:48 MDT Print View

When I was reading Rocket Llama's account, the one thing I noticed is that other than stamping out help in the snow in a field, she did very little to try and make herself more visible. She could have taken forest duff, branches, etc. to fill in the "Help" in the snow to make it more visible. She could have lit a big, smoky fire. Yes, they are illegal in the park. However, in a life threatening situation that would be forgiven, and even if not it's better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6. Any light source at night would help, if searchers are looking. A mirror, CD, even the face of her phone could be used to flash the sun (assuming it ever poked through). Hunkering down under a tree was probably prudent, considering conditions, but any opportunity to make yourself more visible to rescuers should be taken. I assume part of the reason these things didn't happen is that as a UL hiker she may have lacked the very gear that might have helped - a decent knife, firestarter, mirror - I often see that type of gear scoffed at here.

That said, I thought her thinking on self-rescue was terrific and her resilience in the face of what was probably a very psychologically difficult situation was excellent. The end result was she did really rescue herself- I have no doubt that if that motorcycle hadn't run across her she would have walked out on her own.

Ken Thompson
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: Behind the Redwood Curtain
Re: "Visibility to helicopters if lost, stranded or injured" on 10/15/2013 18:30:07 MDT Print View

Those of you with access to high buildings/places could easily do some experiments. Post your results here.

I think it would depend on the size of the flash Roger. Those tiny point and shoot flashes are not so bright.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
More Power! on 10/15/2013 19:56:10 MDT Print View

"Those tiny point and shoot flashes are not so bright."

When I go backpacking, I am often out for black bear photography. At night, the fur of a black bear will soak up just about every photon of light that I throw at it. Therefore, I carry a Canon 580EX flash unit with a supplemental battery pack. With that thing flashing rapidly, I could be quite distracting to a search pilot.

--B.G.--

Don Morris
(hikermor) - F
Helicopter Visibility on 10/15/2013 20:11:44 MDT Print View

My SAR unit (Southern Arizona Rescue Association) conducted some trials and published the results. I cannot find my copy so I am going from memory:

Inert subjects, either in the open or partially under vegetation - spotted less than 50% of the time

Subject in the open, making motions with arms or clothing - spotted something like 70-75% of the time.

On operations, we used signal mirrors during the day and strobes during the night - quite effectively. On one occasion, a nice roaring bonfire stood in for the strobe and it worked well enough. We usually had radio contact with the chopper, which is a great advantage.

It is not easy to spot someone from the air. Do everything possible to tilt the odds in your favor - have at lest some bright objects, make yourself conspicuous, and move...

Don't bother with the typical flashing red bike light. They are simply not bright enough.

Edited by hikermor on 10/15/2013 20:13:39 MDT.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Use camera flash on 10/15/2013 20:13:31 MDT Print View

"but so far no-one has suggested the 'obvious'. Point your camera at the chopper and flash it. Several times if needed. The xenon strobe is kinda bright."

So is the strobe on any good headlamp these days, far more visible and for far longer I suspect.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Visibility to helicopters if lost, stranded or injured on 10/15/2013 21:17:13 MDT Print View

Use it all. Bright lights, mirrors, smoke, laser pointers, orange blankets. Motion is good.

I rely on the mirror on my compass and my lighting gear for visual signals, as well as improvised things like smoky fires, clothing or signs on the ground with natural materials. I always have a loud whistle as well.

I'm really a fan of common road flares. They are the best fire starter you can buy and they *are* made for signaling. I wish they made a smaller one for hikers.

Paul Wagner
(balzaccom) - F

Locale: Wine Country
Re: Re: Visibility to helicopters if lost, stranded or injured on 10/15/2013 22:57:43 MDT Print View

"The best colour marker is fluorescent orange. This is such an unnatural colour that a pilot's eye is attracted to it immediately. Lay out a 1sqm of material in an open space, and leave it there, don't wait until you hear the aircraft coming, and peg it out if at all windy. And don't bother waving it, that just makes it smaller."

Not in the Southwest. Remember Colin Fletcher's experience in the Grand Canyon. It was not until he changed his orange signal flag for a cheap blue tarp that he got noticed. The orange just melted into all that red rock.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
My "solutions" on 10/23/2013 16:28:18 MDT Print View

1.> I carry a 2' X 3' panel of Da-Glo orange light ripstop nylon that I would use as a flag on the end of a long pole B/C waving it on a pole gives more movement than just waving it with your arms. The flag has ties on one edge to speed up deployment.

2.> A smoky fire combined with the rescue flag will work very well unless high winds are present, in which case rescue aircraft would likely be grounded.

3.> As mentioned large (12') letters on the ground will work to indicate not only your location (or direction of travel if absolutely necessary) but using known "rescue icons", that medical help is/is not needed, etc. Carry a small sheet of rescue signal letters with you on all hikes to get the correct signals sent. Memory can fail at stressful times.