Getting lost in the vast Angeles National Forest is the stuff of nightmares. Alone and shivering from the cold, Rene Compean spent the night with the bears and mountain lions, praying that someone would come to his rescue.
Just before his phone’s battery died, he had managed to send a single photo to his friend.
But would anyone be able to find him?
When Rene’s roommate, Darrin Mack, received the cryptic photo – accompanied by a startling message – he thought that it had to be a joke. The hours ticked by, but he never heard from Rene again.
When he realized that he couldn’t reach Rene, he knew that he had to get help.
“It’s late, the sun’s going down, he’s gonna be out there and it’s gonna be hard for anyone to locate him at that time,” Darrin recounted to Inside Edition.
Darrin reported his roommate as missing to SAR teams at 6 PM on Monday, April 12. But what had happened to him?
Rene had been hiking in the mountains of Southern California when he found himself in a life-threatening situation.
In his attempt to reach the highest area, he’d gotten hopelessly lost.
His phone battery had run flat, so the photo he had sent Darrin was his only chance at being rescued.
Unfortunately, Rene’s location could not be tracked because he had disabled his phone’s location tracking settings.
“Unfortunately, Rene did not have his ‘location’ on for his phone, so team members were unable to get his location code from the photo,” the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) wrote in a press statement on their Facebook page.
After a night of fruitless searching, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department decided to try a different tactic.
A man was missing, and the only clues as to his whereabouts were in the photo he’d sent to his roommate. The photograph depicted Rene’s scuffed and blackened legs hanging over a precipice.
With a single photo to go on, LA County Sherriffs decided to call on the public for help.
“We were able to send the photo out to the media and on social media platforms hoping someone would recognize the area in the photo and call us to help,” they wrote on Facebook.
The plea circulated on Facebook and Twitter until the mysterious photograph reached a ham radio operator named Benjamin Kuo, who happened to be at the right place, at the right time.
Astoundingly, Benjamin looked at the photograph carefully and thought he recognized the area!
“I’ve got a very weird hobby, which is, I love taking a look at photos and figuring out where they’re taken,” said Benjamin in an interview with NBC Los Angeles.
“I started going through the process of looking at the photo, figuring out where it was,” Kuo said. “I do a lot of hiking as well, so I’m a little familiar with the area. And I said, ‘Oh, I think I know where this guy is,’ and found some GPS locations, and gave it to the search and rescue guy,” Benjamin told ABC7 News.
By Tuesday morning, Benjamin had compiled a Twitter thread by using 3D terrain mapping that pinpointed where he thought Rene had taken the photo.
Benjamin also surmised that the black dirt on Rene’s legs was from an area that had been blackened by a recent fire. But was his hunch right?
“Our Air5 started to search in the area of Twin Peaks East and Triplet Rocks where they flew low, and close to the mountain,” the LASD wrote on Facebook. “Through the fog they found Rene safe. He was airlifted to meet with our rescuers and pose for a quick picture.”
It turned out that Benjamin was spot-on.
“I’ve provided information before, but this is the first time that it resulted in somebody being rescued,” Benjamin explained to ABC7 News. “So, it’s really nice to see that someone’s not stuck on a hillside still tonight.”
But how is Rene faring after his harrowing ordeal?
Rene is eternally grateful to Benjamin, and he even got to express his thanks to his savior over Zoom:
“I crazy appreciate what you did…I really don’t know if I could make it there another day. It was just so cold,” Rene told Benjamin during the call, arranged by Inside Edition.
To see the dramatic search and rescue mission, watch the video below!
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