Benjamin Kuo was able to pinpoint the hiker's location thanks to a photograph

By Rachel DeSantis
April 15, 2021 01:56 PM
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missing hiker
Rene Compean
| Credit: Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department

A hiker rescued from the San Gabriel Mountains has one man's self-proclaimed "weird hobby" to thank for making it out alive.

Rene Compean knew he was lost in the forest, so he texted a friend on his dying cell phone Monday night, sending along a picture of his dirt-covered legs dangling above a canyon, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said in a statement.

It was that very picture that ultimately led to his rescue on Tuesday afternoon.

"SAR Team members were able to communicate with a member of the community who is also an avid hiker in the Angeles National Forest," the sheriff's department statement said. "He shared information he knew about the area pictured in our posts."

Luckily for Compean, the photo he'd sent to a friend made it to social media, which is where Benjamin Kuo spotted it.

"I've got a very weird hobby which is, I love taking a look at photos and figuring out where they're taken," Kuo told KNBC.

Kuo said he was able to zero in on the background behind Compean's shoes in the photo, and pinpoint the near-exact location where he was stranded, the coordinates of which he shared with the sheriff's department.

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"You don't think that sitting behind a computer and looking at a picture and saying, 'Oh, it looks like that might be where he is,' would lead to a person being rescued," Kuo told KCBS. "I was hoping I didn't send them on a wild goose chase, and then they'd get mad at me."

He didn't — in fact, it turned out that Compean, 45, was found within three-quarters of a mile of the coordinates Kuo suggested, Sgt. John Gilbert of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department Crescenta Valley Station told the outlet.

"This was a good clue and it was worth investigation," Gilbert told KNBC. "So that's when we asked our Air Rescue 5 to go and check out that area and see if they saw anything, lo and behold we were able to find him."

Compean and Kuo met virtually for the first time on Tuesday, and the hiker was able to tell his rescuer just how grateful he was for his help.

"I crazy appreciate what you did… I really don't know if I could make it there another day. It was just so cold," he said, according to KNBC.

Compean is an avid hiker, but reportedly said he lost his way on Monday because many of the trees and signs in the area had been burned and destroyed. He was airlifted to safety the next day, and did not need to be hospitalized.