This is a guest post from a friend who works in the Aviation side of the military, who graciously provided this write up so those readers who have never been in situations involving extraction of lost or injured people will get a better idea what is involved and how they can help themselves.
So without more input from me here is the full write up from D.H. and I hope he continues wanting to contribute to my site and others.
Have a Search and Rescue Back Up Plan
If you are a camper, hunter, hiker, or traveler of the outdoors, you should have a means of assisting others to locate you if you become lost, injured, or worse. Too many people forget that cell phones only work when within range of a cell tower. Much of the U.S. is remote and there is no such thing as a cell signal. This is when you need to have a backup. Many aircraft have an Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) that is used to locate them in the event of a crash. For those that don’t have an aircraft handy, they can get themselves a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB),( Edit: or here) or a Survival Radio ( Edit : or here) that requires an amateur radio license (HAM) to use. Additionally you should have a simple a signal mirror and/or flashlight.( Edit: or a strobe)
Michael ‘s EDIT: If you buy a survival radio I have few alternatives better than the Yeasu VX8DR recommended by DH. I can add the need for 4 sets of LiO AA batteries and the AA battery holder carried along with the radio. The batteries should be carried separately and the holder in one package with the radio.
Since the radio operates on the HAM bands a software mod is required AND an antenna specifically for the Aviation channels 121.5 VHF and 406 and 243.0 ( Military) UHF before relying on this or any radio to save your life. Spending time learning your gear and getting licensed in its operation is paramount to staying alive.
A US Technician Ham license will go a long way to learning exactly what we are talking about here.
Back to DH
The first option is a PLB, the way these work is when activated, they transmit a signal at 406 MHz to a satellite (requires unobstructed view of the sky). The satellite fixes your location and this is all monitored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and also by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC). Because you have your PLB registered with NOAA, they know who you are and will activate search and rescue (SAR). The satellite fix only gets them within a couple miles of your position so the PLB also sends out a homing signal on VHF frequency 121.5 MHz (known to pilots as Victor Guard Freq).
Using specialized tracking equipment, the SAR teams will “home” in on the signal. Some of the more expensive PLB’s will also send a GPS position or “fix” to the satellite. This greatly speeds up the SAR efforts to reach you because this gets them within about 10meters of your position and now they don’t have to rely on a weak homing signal. Expect a healthy bill for the rescue efforts but this is probably your best chance of rescue.
Another option if you are a licensed HAM operator, a small portable radio could be just the thing for you. . If you are not a HAM operator, you can still utilize these radios in a REAL EMERGENCY ONLY, better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission in this case. All military aircraft monitor VHF 121.5 and most of them also have UHF capability and monitor 243.0 (Uniform Guard Freq). Civilian aircraft may or may not monitor 121.5 and most do not have UHF capabilities. Additionally, Air Traffic Control (ATC) facilities monitor 121.5 and some have UHF capability to monitor 243.0.
Additionally you may be able to reach the Civil Air Patrol in your area on one of their frequencies (list here). Keep in mind, you have to know where you are in order for them to come find you. This means either a GPS unit or knowing where you are on a map. Military pilots will understand both latitude/longitude and military grid reference system (MGRS). Civilian pilots may or may not understand MGRS but they will understand lat/long.
If you cannot give an exact location, look for the nearest LARGE landmark. Don’t say mountain unless it’s the only one in the whole area. Then give a direction and distance from that landmark. Pilots can see a lot farther because of their altitude but the greater the distance, the less detail can be made out. Also weather is a huge factor, rain and snow make it very hard to see long distances.
Once you are talking to an aircraft overhead, don’t point your antenna at the aircraft. There is a “cone of silence” directly associated with most small whip antennas that extends straight up from the tip. Hold it sideways to the aircraft
Once you spot an aircraft or ground search personnel, use a signal mirror (or other highly reflective object), to “flash” aircraft or search personnel. Don’t waste your time trying to flash a commercial aircraft that is a small dot in the sky, they won’t see you.
Use this for low flying aircraft (especially helicopters). Flash once, wait a second and flash again. Repeat until acknowledged which from an airplane will usually be a “waving” of the wings and possibly circle around your position. From a helicopter, you probably won’t see a wave but the pilot will probably circle you and/or give you hand gestures.
At night a good flashlight is used in place of the signal mirror. The difference will be in the response, airplanes will flash their lights (not the anti-collision light that is already flashing), Helicopters will likely illuminate you with a landing light or spotlight if equipped or they may also flash their position lights. The response you get really depends on the pilot that spots you.
NOW if they have spotted you and acknowledged, don’t flash or shine the flashlight at the pilot anymore, you may momentarily blind them.
Don’t expect an airplane to land right next to you and scoop you up. Landing on a dirt trail in a fixed wing aircraft is for Hollywood, real pilots are going to report your position and send the ground crews after you. A helicopter on the other hand could possibly land but it has to be open terrain.
If a helicopter does land, DO NOT approach it, wait for the flight crew to come to you. DO NOT approach a running helicopter unless directed to do so by the pilot/crew.
If you are in an area that the helicopter cannot land, they may lower a hoist. Again DO NOT approach until directed to do so.
Other options for signaling aircraft include smoke (you do have fire starter in your kit right?), pyrotechnics (check your local laws) which include flares, and chemlights. What do you do with a chemlight you ask…you make a buzzsaw out of it. Tie about 3 feet of string to it and swirl it around like a buzzsaw. Very effective for military helicopter pilots because they usually wear night vision goggles and it’s a signal that they commonly use.
Make a plan, have a backup and be prepared when it all goes wrong.
I would like to again thank DH for taking time to write this up and share his extensive knowledge in this area. An excellent article from the POV of the Aviator and issues they deal with in rescues
Have a Search and Rescue Back Up Plan