Photo texted to friend helped find hiker lost in Calif. woods

Published: Apr. 14, 2021 at 3:32 PM EDT
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LOS ANGELES COUNTY, Calif. (KCBS) - A hiker who got lost in California’s Angeles National Forest is now safe after a satellite mapping enthusiast used a single picture to find him.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said rescuers found the hiker, 45-year-old Rene Compean, on Tuesday after he spent a night alone in the wilderness.

“You don’t think that sitting behind a computer and looking at a picture and going, ‘Oh hey, that looks like it might be where he is,’ would result in someone getting rescued,” said Benjamin Kuo.

Kuo is the satellite mapping enthusiast who determined Compean’s location. He did so using a single picture of the hiker’s legs dangling over the edge of a cliff.

Compean had texted the photo to a friend Monday night along with a message stating his cell phone was almost dead and he was lost.

The sheriff’s department started searching and found his car at a local campground, but it connects to five different trailheads, making it hard for rescuers to pinpoint where he could’ve gone.

So, they posted the photo online, hoping local hikers in the area would be able to identify where he might have been.

Kuo worried that, even with the help of the community, the rescue effort would still be a “a wild goose chase.” Luckily, using his skills with satellite mapping, he was able to narrow the search.

They found the Compean within 3/4 of a mile of the GPS coordinates Kuo sent them.

Sgt. John Gilbert with the sheriff’s department said Kuo’s coordinates matched cell phone data they were already using and help the rescue team pinpoint Compean’s exact location.

“And lo and behold, as they’re doing their search mission, they see our missing person on the ridge line,” Gilbert said.

Compean was little tired, hungry and cold, and didn’t require hospitalization.

Kuo was happy to help but has one favor to ask.

“Next time, instead of taking a picture of your feet, send your GPS coordinates,” he pleaded.

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