It Takes a Hero, a Cell Tower and a Helicopter to Save a Hiker


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With help from a cell tower’s ping, geolocation technology, and a fellow hiker’s “strange hobby,” the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department located and rescued a lost hiker.  The Los Angeles Times had the happy task of reporting that Rene Compean was airlifted out of the mountainous Angeles National Forest after a harrowing night spent in the wilderness.

When Compean failed to return from his hike in California’s San Gabriel Mountains on Monday, concerned friends alerted authorities. Although they did not know precisely where he was, the friends did have a photo snapped earlier in the day, showing the hiker’s legs on a ledge. The ping from the nearest cell tower narrowed the search area, but could not pinpoint Compean’s exact location.  

Responding to a social media request for help, hiking enthusiast Ben Kuo told authorities that he had an idea where they might find the lost hiker. Kuo explained that he is very familiar with the San Gabriel terrain and has made a hobby of being able to look at a photograph and determine where it was taken. He examined the photo and estimated that it was taken near Triplet Rocks, an inhospitable area not easily reachable on foot. With Kuo’s guidelines in mind, a helicopter crew was dispatched and found Compean less than a mile from where Kuo had predicted he would be.

“I’m very happy that he’s safe,” said Kuo. “It’s gratifying that sitting behind a computer at my desk was so helpful to somebody.”

Sgt. John Gilbert of the Sheriff’s Department’s Crescenta Valley station was concerned the overnight temperature would be a problem for the hiker and was relieved to find Compean in good health. He spoke warmly of the combined resources that merged cell tower technology, helicopter piloting, and human ingenuity to save a life, saying, “It worked wonderfully this time.”

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