Man Lost in Colorado Wilderness Nearly Left Behind by Rescue Helicopter After Searchers Mistake Distress Calls for ‘Hello’

by Alex Falls
Cavan Images / Getty

A rescue mission in the Colorado Wilderness nearly failed when a man who got separated from his hunting party was almost overlooked by the search team who mistook his calls for help.

Emergency services were contacted Wednesday morning last week when someone from a hunting party didn’t return to their camp Tuesday night. The hunting party was staying in the woods between Surprise Lake and Upper Cataract Lake in Northern Colorado.

Flight for Life immediately launched a quick scouting mission but could not locate the missing man. They called for an on-foot search by seven members of the Summit Rescue Group accompanied by a Blackhawk helicopter. Crews divided up and searched the trails around the lakes to find the lost man.

According to the search teams, the hunters were camping off trail in swampy dense foliage. So the search took significant time to cover the ground adequately. Soon thereafter, the Blackhawk pilot spotted someone they believed could have been the missing man.

“He 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, ” Summit County Rescue Group’s Anna Debattiste said to CBS News in Colorado.

“The real key here is he went like this,” Debattiste said, waving slowly and casually. “The pilot said, ‘He’s saying hi, he doesn’t seem to be in distress,’ so they left,” Debattiste said. The missing man did not signal in a way the pilots could interpret as someone in distress.

Luckily for the man and everyone involved, the ground crews located him shortly after the helicopter did. Debattiste hopes the situation will serve as a learning experience for people lost in the woods by teaching them the proper ways to signal for help.

“What he actually should have done was something like this,” Debattiste said, waving aggressively with both arms over her head, back and forth, over and over again. “Or waving a brightly colored piece of clothing, something to say ‘Hey!! I’m the guy you’re looking for!!”

Through the terrifying ordeal, the man was located and safely reunited with his party. Debattiste said he was found cold, tired, and dehydrated. However, he was otherwise fine. She noted he made the smart decision of staying in one spot overnight and then moving into an open area during the daylight to help crews locate him.

Another piece of advice offered to hunters and campers is always to carry something to help you navigate. Something such as a map, a compass, GPS, or a smartphone to assist with keeping your sense of direction while exploring outdoor areas. Crews reported the Colorado hunter had none of the above on him when he was found.