Cliff hanger: Missing California hiker found after photo reveals location

PALMDALE, Calif. — If a picture is worth a thousand words, a photo texted by a stranded California hiker helped save his life.

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A photograph of a man’s soot-stained legs, perched above a canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains, was the clue needed for a GPS hobbyist to help authorities save Rene Compean’s life.

Compean, 45, of Palmdale, was disoriented and lost in a remote region of the Angeles National Forest on Monday, the Los Angeles Times reported. On Tuesday, rescue teams dispatched by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department found him and carried him back to safety, according to Sgt. John Gilbert of the sheriff’s department’s Crescenta Valley station.

“I’m happy to be alive,” Compean told KCBS.

The saving clue was a photograph Compean texted to a friend before he went missing. It showed him from the knees down, dangling his bare legs from a precipice, SFGate reported.

When Compean was reported missing by his friend, the man’s car was found near a campground but officials did not know which trail he had taken. That is when the friend offered the grainy photo Compean had texted.

It wasn’t much, but it was enough for satellite mapping enthusiast Benjamin Kuo of Thousand Oaks, who responded to authorities’ plea on social media and helped narrow down Compean’s location, KCBS reported.

“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. “I found the location right here, and they actually found him right about there,” Kuo told KCBS, referring to a map of mountainous terrain.

“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.”

The GPS coordinates Kuo sent allowed the rescue team to find Compean about three-quarters of a mile from the spot, the Times reported.

Triplet Rocks, near where Compean was found, is considered “the least accessible peak in the San Gabriel Mountains,” according to, a mountaineering website.

Compean and Kuo met in a virtual meeting, KNBC reported.

“I crazy appreciate what you did,” Compean told Kuo. “I really don’t know if I could make it there another day. It was just so cold.”

Kuo has helped authorities before. He is an amateur ham radio user who goes by the handle @Ai6yrham on Twitter, but he said he’s never aided in anyone’s rescue, the Times reported.

“I’m very happy that he’s safe,” Kuo said of Compean. “It’s gratifying that sitting behind a computer at my desk was so helpful to somebody.”