Rescue Helicopter Leaves Behind Waving Man Who Was Lost in Colo. Wilderness: 'He's Saying Hi,' Pilot Thought

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A helicopter rescue team left behind a stranded hiker last week after they confused his hand waves for a greeting.

According to CBS affiliate KCNC-TV, a hiking group traveling between Surprise Lake and Upper Cataract Lake in Colorado called emergency services on Wednesday after one of their members did not return to camp the night before.

After an initial aerial search team did not locate the man, another crew was sent into the area with a Blackhawk helicopter — and that's when they spotted someone the pilot thought could be the missing hiker.

"He radioed that they had a subject that partially matched the description, but not completely only because his backpack was upside down, so it was the wrong color," Anna Debattiste of the Summit County Rescue Group told KCNC-TV.

Debattiste told the news station that the team didn't initially believe the man was in trouble because he appeared to wave to them casually instead of raising both of his hands in the air.

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"The pilot said, 'He's saying hi, he doesn't seem to be in distress,' so they left," Debattiste said.

According to survival expert James Mandeville, raising both hands over one's head is recognized internationally as a call for help. But, conversely, raising one hand in the air with the other pointed to the ground is a way to signal support is not needed, Mandeville explained on his website.

KCNC-TV reported that a ground team eventually found the man and brought him to safety. He was tired and dehydrated, but in good health, they reported.

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The Summit County Rescue Group hopes that "one lesson to be learned from this incident is how to signal a helicopter."

"Our subject saw helicopters above him and knew that they must have been looking for him. He did the right thing by moving to an open area so they could see him," the group wrote in a Facebook post. "However, he waved at the pilots in a very slight gesture that they interpreted to mean he was simply saying hello and not in distress."

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"An effective way to signal a helicopter is with big gestures such as waving both arms vigorously over one's head, or waving a bright-colored piece of clothing," the group added.