(Adapted from the U.S. Army Survival Manual)
As a survivor, you must get your rescuers attention
first, and second, send a message your rescuer understands. Some
attention-getters are man-made geometric patterns such as straight
lines, circles, triangles, or Xs displayed in uninhabited
areas; a large fire or flash of light; a large, bright object
moving slowly; or contrast, whether from color or shadows.
Find the largest available clear and flat area on the highest
possible terrain. Use as obvious a signal as you can create.
Whatever signaling technique or device you plan to use, know
how to use it and be ready to put it into operation on short
notice. If possible, avoid using signals or signaling techniques
that can physically endanger you.
MEANS FOR SIGNALING
There are two main ways to get attention or to communicate
- visual and audio. The means you use will depend on your situation
and the material you have available. Whatever the means, always
have visual and audio signals ready for use.
During darkness, fire is the most effective visual means for
signaling. Build three fires in a triangle (the international
distress signal) or in a straight line with about 25 meters between
the fires. Build them as soon as time and the situation permit
and protect them until you need them. If you are alone, maintaining
three fires may be difficult. If so, maintain one signal fire.
When constructing signal fires, consider your geographic location.
If in a snow-covered area, you may have to clear the ground of
snow or make a platform on which to build the fire so that melting
snow will not extinguish it.
A burning tree (tree torch) is another way to attract attention.
You can set pitch-bearing trees afire, even when green. You can
get other types of trees to burn by placing dry wood in the lower
branches and igniting it so that the flames flare up and ignite
the foliage. Before the primary tree is consumed, cut and add
more small green trees to the fire to produce more smoke. Always
select an isolated tree so that you do not start a forest fire
and endanger yourself.
During daylight, build a smoky fires to gain attention. The
international distress signal is three columns of smoke. Try
to create a color of smoke that contrasts with the background;
dark smoke against a light background and vice versa. If you
practically smother a large fire with green leaves, moss, or
a little water, the fire will produce white smoke. If you add
rubber or oil-soaked rags to a fire, you will get black smoke.
In a desert environment, smoke hangs close to the ground,
but a pilot can spot it in open desert terrain.
Steve's Notes: People lost in the desert have been
found and saved by burning tires. They create a large volume
of black smoke that can be seen for miles.
Smoke signals are effective only on comparatively calm, clear
days. High winds, rain, or snow disperse smoke, lessening its
chances of being seen.
Mirrors or Shiny Objects
On a sunny day, a mirror is your best signaling device. If
you don't have a mirror, polish your canteen cup, your belt buckle,
or a similar object that will reflect the suns rays. Practice
using a mirror or shiny object for signaling now; do not wait
until you need it.
Haze, ground fog, and mirages may make it hard for a pilot
to spot signals from a flashing object. So, if possible, get
to the highest point in your area when signaling. If you can't
determine the aircrafts location, flash your signal in
the direction of the aircraft noise.
Note: Pilots have reported seeing mirror flashes up to 160
kilometers away under ideal conditions.
Figures 19-4 shows one method of aiming a signal mirror for
Flashlight or Strobe Light
At night you can use a flashlight or a strobe light to send
an SOS to an aircraft. When using a strobe light, take care to
prevent the pilot from mistaking it for incoming ground fire.
The strobe light flashes 60 times per minute. Some strobe lights
have infrared covers and lenses. Blue flash collimators are also
available for strobe lights.
Continue with Signaling
Techniques - Part Two.
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