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Universal Rescue Signals

For hiking and wilderness rescue, know the most basic hand signal to alert a helicopter or plane passing overhead. Do not wave. This is considered a signal to not land or assist. Instead, if you see a helicopter or plane, form your arms in a “Y” to indicate “Yes” or “I need help.” (If you do not need help, stretch one arm up and one down (imitating the letter N) for “No” or “I do not need help”.

You can also create a signaling tool using a flare, flashlight, mirror, mylar blanket or anything shiny. Use this immediately upon seeing a helicopter or plane. Reflect the sun off your signaling tool in the direction of the helicopter to attract attention to your location.

Drawing SOS in the sand, rocks, logs or making this from whatever is available in a visible open area is a highly recognized universal distress signal.

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Additional distress alert signals can be three fires in a triangle within close proximity, three piles of rocks in a triangle, three blasts on a whistle, three shots from a firearm, or three flashes of a light in succession, followed by a one minute pause and repeated until a response is received.

If you hear rescuers in the distance but don’t have a way to signal them, call out in a deep voice. Normal sounds from nature can be high pitched and may not be recognized. Calling out in a low tone helps rescuers know you are a human.

Finally, ALWAYS give your trip details including the estimated time you will be home, to someone you trust. Be absolutely sure to report back in on time, and have them call 911 if you are late.


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