I don’t know if Hollywood has contacted Rene Compean yet but they should. Compean likes to go hiking in the Angeles National Forest which is located northeast of Los Angeles. He’s been hiking there many times but last week something went wrong. After taking a new trail for what he thought would be a two-hour hike, he got lost. He did his best to backtrack but eventually he began to get really frightened. He wasn’t dressed for a night in the forest. He only had an energy bar and little water. And his cell phone was about to die.
As a kind of last cry for help, Compean went to high ground where his phone had one bar of signal. He took a photo which showed his own dirty legs hanging over the valley below him. He sent it to a friend, telling him he was lost and needed help. He didn’t know at the time that the location feature on his phone was turned off.
Compean’s friend got the grainy photo and contacted authorities. The LA County Sheriff’s office sent people out to search for him. They found his car but couldn’t locate Compean because the search area was just too big. He wound up spending a night alone in the forest. He spotted two mountain lions and one bear. By the next morning he was still alone and wondering how much longer he would make it.
Meanwhile, the LA County Sheriffs office decided to ask for help. They put out this tweet asking if any regular hikers in the area recognized where Compean’s final photo was taken.
Are You an Avid Hiker in the Mt. Waterman Area? #LASD SAR Teams need help locating a #missing hiker. He sent this picture to a friend. His car was found near Buckhorn Campground/Trailhead. Call us if you recognize the area pictured below 818-248-3464. https://t.co/Xi0VL6Mxfi pic.twitter.com/1lUMrgj4y9
— LA County Sheriffs (@LASDHQ) April 13, 2021
And that’s when something pretty awesome happened. A guy named Ben Kuo who lives in Ventura saw the photo and decided to see if he could identify the location.
Kuo works in the tech industry, but he is also an amateur radio operator. For several years, as a hobby, he has used his Twitter account to alert the public about natural disasters. He regularly examines satellite imagery to identify and track local wildfires.
Plus, he has another unusual pastime: “I have always loved looking for where photos are taken,” Kuo said. He frequently tries to identify where movie scenes, television shows or commercials were filmed. He’s often successful…
The first thing he noticed in the picture were patches of greenery. “I realized he’s got to be on the south side because there’s not really any green valleys on the north side,” he explained.
That finding tightened his search considerably and helped him zero in on one area that closely resembled the terrain in the image…
“By punching in the time and date that the photo was taken, you can compare the view in Google Earth,” said Kuo. “They matched.”
He shared the location he’d found on Twitter and then called the Sherriff’s office directly.
— AI6YR (@ai6yrham) April 13, 2021
The department checked it out and decided to send a helicopter directly to the location. They found Compean within a mile of the spot Kuo had identified. Here’s an LA County Sheriff’s photo of the helicopter arriving:
Compean was emotionally overwhelmed by the rescue. In a Zoom call to Ben Kuo the next day, he told Kuo “I owe you my life.” The two men are now hoping to meet up in person for dinner and Compean even suggested they might get together at some point for a hike.
Sure it wouldn’t be Avengers Endgame in terms of special effects or world altering consequences but I bet Clint Eastwood could make a pretty decent movie out of this story.