From my last couple of blogs, you will have discovered the importance of getting your priority’s straight upon finding yourself in a survival situation. Getting yourself a shelter put together, and a fire going to give yourself the best chance in the first few hours.
Now is not the time to settle down and wait for the rescue party. Do not get comfortable, there is work to be done. With good planning, the relevant authorities should have been notified ahead of any expedition about your chosen route. Where you are heading, where you are leaving from, and what time you are expected to arrive at the other end etc. It is important to maximize the chances for a rescue team to find you. They may know your planned route, but they will not know exactly where you are if you find yourself in trouble, and furthermore it may take days for anyone to raise the alarm that you have not made contact.
Set out ground to air signals. Weather permitting, it is likely that a rescue party will use a helicopter or plane to try and locate you.
Building signal fires is a great way to get spotted both day and night as they can easily be modified for both day time and night time signalling. Site them on high ground to give them the best chance of being seen. When materials are available, construct three tripods spaced equally apart in a triangular pattern, this is an internationally recognized distress signal . Remember to dig them in so they will not be blown over in high winds. Add a platform around halfway up to each of these to site your fires on. Using the platforms to get your fires off the ground will help in case of severe wet weather, and also to maximize air flow through the them. Have your fires set with tinder and kindling so they can be lit at the moment you see an incoming aircraft, petrol or other flammable materials will work well if available for speedy ignition. Use green materials over the tripods to cover the fires with such as leafy branches, or pine boughs to help keep any rain off while they are not in use. Also make use of any brightly coloured material you may have, and cover the tripods with these too. This will enhance your chances of being spotted during the day if you happen to be asleep, but remember to remove them when lighting. For day time signalling, leave the branches on and build up your fire from the side as this will create a lot of white smoke which will contrast against a darker terrain. If an aircraft approaches at night, remove the branches and build up the flames with dry materials so they burn brightly. Fires can be spotted at night from great distances. It is worth noting that if an aircraft is searching, it will fly back and fourth in an over lapping pattern. So if by the time you have got your fires lit, you may think the aircraft has missed you, however the chances are that it will turn and fly back into the area again, giving you an extra chance to get them going. If on snow covered ground, and a there is a vehicle available, use oil and tyres etc. to burn which will create black smoke contrasting much better against the snow.
Place out marker signals on open ground using any materials you have to hand. Rocks, branches, clothing, even trampling snow or making marks in sand will work. Try to make letters around 40ft long and 10 ft wide with about 10ft between each letter so they can clearly be seen from air. SOS is an internationally recognized distress signal. Or even just use the word HELP. It is important to make signs large enough so they will not be missed from the air. Rescue teams will investigate anything that stands out.
Reflection and light signalling.
Searching aircraft will fly search patterns towards and away from the sun to make it easier for them to pick up any reflective signals you send out. Tin foil, glass, and mirrors will work well to reflect sun light and attract attention. Knowing Morse code will be extremely useful with this technique, however it is not necessary. Rescue teams wont over look any flashes you make if you don’t know the code. Everyone should at least know the Morse code for SOS which is …—… use short flashes for dots and longer flashes for dashes. The same technique goes for flashing a torch. Remember to remove batteries while its not in use to preserve them in case it gets turned on accidentally without your knowledge. International Mountain rescue distress signals are recognized as six flashes (or whistles etc.) per minute with a minute in between and then repeated .
If you have a radio or other transmitter, it is important to preserve the batteries also. Try not to stay on air for to long, but rather send out signals in patterns over a period of time. Again, remove batteries while not in use. Short range beacons should only be turned on when you think rescue parties have entered the vicinity as they will not be picked up over long distances. Before heading off on an expedition, frequency’s should be established with the relevant authorities.
When an aircraft has spotted you, it will break from the search pattern and circle the area and flash its lights. Observe the aircraft for any communications drops and await further instruction.
The importance of getting these signals out as soon as possible cannot be stressed enough. you may only be stranded for a few hours before being located, or you could be on your own for a number of weeks, but do not leave it to chance. You need to give yourself the best chance of being rescued. Stay busy. Remember your priorities, and give yourself and others jobs to stay occupied. Sitting around waiting does nothing for mental attitudes and ultimately could result in slipping into a depression and giving up. Do not give up. It is a fact that we can handle more than we believe and thinking clearly and positively will push you through more undertakings than you would think possible.
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