Location: how to be rescued

Learn from the tragedies of the past how to be rescued in any Location.

Understand how to be rescued in any Hostile Environment, following our signalling survival techniques

A review of two tragedies, one recent and one several decades ago, demonstrate that operating in hostile environments pose a variety of threats that can be mitigated by training and learning certain skill set.  Although the two tragedies occurred in different hostile environments – one a desert, the other a mountain – the mistakes made in both scenarios highlight the need for proper knowledge.

Maurtiz Pieterson and his colleague Josh Hays had conducted a routine maintain ace check at a spring near the Ethabuka cattle station in South West Queensland.  After leaving the cattle station, the two maintenance workers drove through the Simpson Desert where their vehicle became stuck in sand.  As they were only 16 kilometres away from the cattle station and water, they decided to walk back.  The decision to leave their vehicle or not can be debated.  But as attendees on our HEAT course learn, the body’s need for water is a key component for survival.  Pieterson died within hours of starting the walk in the midday sun.  His colleague, Hays, was found 2 kilometres away and severely dehydrated.


The lessons learnt from this tragedy are fourfold:


  • –  in a desert environment it is critical that you protect yourself from the Sun.  Build a shelter to provide you with some shade and a cool environment in which to relax and think.
  • minimise your water expenditure.  Calm down, cover all exposed skin to prevent evaporation, breath through your nose and suck a pebble or a button to slake your thirst.
  • create certain signalling devices by burning local vegetation, fuel from the vehicle or the seat lining.   Also, use the driving mirrors and polish hubcaps to transmit a distress signal by sunlight.  Continue to use the vehicle’s horn before the battery runs out.
  • –  if you decide to leave your vehicle, you should plan to walk at night.


In October 1972, a plane left Mendoza, Argentina, with an amateur rugby team from Uruguay, called the Old Christians.  The team was travelling to Santiago,Chile, to play in a football tournament but their Fairchild F-227 crashed into the Andes.  During the initial crash, the two wings and the tail of the aircraft broke off and the fuselage slid into a steep valley.  Although 32 of the 45 passengers survived the initial crash, the most severely injured died in the sub-zero conditions over the next couple of day.  13 others died two weeks later when the plane was hit by an avalanche.

Despite these tragic deaths, the survivors scavenged chocolate sweets and food found in their luggage, melted snow for water and created shelter inside the fuselage.  Although the survival mentality was clearly demonstrated by those who survived the crash and the avalanche, a different survival instinct would have had to be evoked for the survivors to decide to eat their own.  The 16 survivors were rescued 72 days after the crash.

So, what could the team have done to enhance their chances of survival and to have been rescued within their first week of the plane going down?

The fundamental mistake made by the survivors was not the decision to eat their team mates nor to send two of their friends on a hike through the mountains to find help.  The fundamental mistake was failing to attract attention.  The flight plan had been submitted by the pilots so the emergency services knew that the plane had crashed and in which general area.  However, the fuselage was white and was camouflaged by the surrounding environment.  Therefore, with high sight, here are some signalling methods the survivors could have used to attract the attention of a rescue party:

  • strip the dead and the luggage of all brightly coloured items that could not be used for warmth or nutrition.  Use these items of brightly coloured gear to create as SOS signal on the highest elevation possible.
  • create a pile of combustible material onto which plastic, foam and rubber from the wreck could be placed.  Burn these items to create a clearly visible smoke signal.  At night make torches by putting fuel into containers and light these periodically to generate a light signal at night.
  • – utilise the emergency flares stored in the aircraft when there is clear evidence that the search party is in the vicinity.  Attempt to use the on-board radio to send a mayday signal or communicate with air traffic controllers.
  • – attach brightly coloured clothing to metal or wooden poles and wave it in the air.  The combination of bright colours and site-to-site movement is a quick way of getting attention.
  • – rather than jumping up and down on hearing a rescue aircraft, you should lay flat down on the round in a star shape.  Move arms and legs in this position and you will be clearly visible from the sky.
  • – as the fuselage of air crafts is white, the survivors should have painted or covered the fuselage with bright colours.  Spreading such materials around on top of and along of the length of the fuselage would have highlighted its presence to the rescue party.

When it come to your location, in a survival situation, a variety of circumstances determine whether you should leave or stay.  Experience has shown that it is always better to make a decision rather than not.

During our H.E.A.T. survival course, we teach you how to best analyse the survival situation you find yourself in.  Consequently you will  understand either which is the best way to signal your presence to potential rescuers or what to do and where to go if you have to provide for yourself the necessary means of support.

But whatever decision you do make, whether it is right or wrong, must be followed through with decisive action.