Meanwhile in California: Satellite Surfer Saves Hiker Lost in Forest Using Google Earth, Still Searching For a Life

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but in the case of Rene Compean, his hairy-legged selfie actually saved his life. It happened when the solo hiker lost his bearings after taking a wrong turn deep inside the Angeles National Forest. Dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, Compean had only packed for a two-hour hike, but with temperatures dropping fast and his phone battery dying, he desperately needed help.

He scrambled up the mountainside, checking his cell reception along the way until miraculously, a single bar appeared. That’s the moment he took the most important selfie of his life.

“SOS. My phone is going to die. I’m lost,” Compean typed to a friend. He sent two photos of his location but only one went through – the blurry selfie of his legs dangling high over a non-descript landscape.

Alarmed, the friend immediately sent the photo to police who searched the area but had to retreat as night fell. While Compean spent the night in a tree with mountain lions and bears prowling below, police tweeted out the selfie asking the public for help.

Now if anyone ever accuses you of having too much time on your hands, just point them in the direction of Ben Kuo, the satellite surfer who spends his free time scouring Google Earth to pinpoint where random photos and movie scenes were shot. “I have always loved looking for where photos are taken,” Kuo gushed. After coming across the police tweet, he thought to himself “I bet I could find that spot.”

Using what little information police had provided in their tweet, Kuo hopped into his captain’s chair and pulled up a satellite map of Buckhorn Campground. Analyzing the vegetation in Compean’s photo, he quickly began to draw conclusions. “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. “By punching in the time and date that the photo was taken, you can compare the view in Google Earth,” said Kuo. “They matched.”

Feeling confident in his search, Kuo reached out to police with a convincing argument. The next day a rescue team gassed up their chopper and headed to the coordinates Kuo had deciphered from the selfie. To everyone’s astonishment, the location was spot on.

Luckily, Compean was recovered with only minor injuries, though he admits he probably wouldn’t have lasted another day. While over 2,000 hikers get lost every year, only one has been recovered by a stranger (with an even stranger hobby) from his home office 60 miles away. We don’t expect this to happen again any time soon. So next time you decide to go rough it in the great outdoors, make sure you bring a map and a selfie stick, and with any luck, James Franco won’t make a movie about that time you got lost in the woods.

Cover Photo: Rene Compean (Twitter)

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