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72 Hour Survival – Part 3

July 7, 2012


There are four ways you can signal for help.  These are:

1. Building signal fires

2. Using your signal whistle

3. Using your mirror to signal aircraft

4. Constructing ground-to-air rescue symbols.


The universal smoke signal for distress is three columns of smoke.  A good signal fire is visible for miles.  Try to build your signal fires in an open area so tree branches don’t diffuse the smoke.  Build your three fires well apart from each other so that you will have three distinct columns of smoke.  To produce smoke, build a fire as you normally would.  Then the fire is burning well, pile green branches and leaves on it.  This will produce billowing columns of white smoke.


A signal whistle can be heard over a great distance.  Blow three loud, shrill blasts on the whistle.  Pause for a minute and blow three more times.  Repeat three or four times.  Follow this routine about every 20 minutes.


If an aircraft passes near you, take out your signal mirror and hold it at an angle that will reflect the sun toward the aircraft.  Move the mirror from side-to-side and up-and-down.  This will create a series of bright flashes that may attract the pilot’s attention.


Build your signals in an open area, clearly visible from above.  Signals may be built from rocks, logs, lines of fire, or trenches dug in the ground. Build them big; at least 40 feet long.  The 5 internationally recognized ground-to-air signals are:

V – meaning “I require assistance”

X – meaning “I need medical assistance”

N – “No”

Y – “Yes”

–> – meaning “Proceed this direction”

Use ground-to-air signals in conjunction with your signal mirror if an aircraft is spotted.


Locate a reliable source of fresh water. If you are able, return to the last source of water that you encountered.  If you are unable to do this, begin searching for water.  Remember, water seeks the lowest ground; so downhill is the direction to search.  In open country, a line of trees, especially willow or cottonwood, often indicates a stream.  Dig a hole in a dry stream bed and water will sometimes pool in the hole.  A fair amount of water can be obtained by wiping dew from rocks and plants.  Use a handkerchief or other item of clothing and mop up the dew.  Squeeze the moisture directly into your mouth.  Be sure that you are not wiping the dew from a poisonous plant.  Some plants contain a lot of moisture.  Remove the spines from prickly pear pads, cut into strips, and chew.  Swallow the moisture and spit out the fibers.  Wild grapes and berries contain moisture, but be sure you know what you are chewing on.  Cut a section of grapevine 5 or 6 feet long and drain the liquid from it.  You can drain the “water” directly into your mouth.  Any water collected from springs, streams, or rivers should be purified before drinking.  Collect the water in your canteen or in the plastic bag from your survival kit.  Use water purification tables according to directions on the bottle.  If you have a pot or metal can you can boil water to purify it.  Boil at least 10 minutes.  Note, boiling will kill bacteria but it will not remove harmful chemicals.  Don’t sip your water to ration it.  This will waste moisture.  When you are thirsty drink at least a half-pint of water at a time.  Snow and ice can be used for water, but they should not be eaten as this will lower your body temperature and make you more susceptible to hypothermia.  Melt snow and ice next to your fire, then drink it.

BE PATIENT!!  PEOPLE ARE LOOKING FOR YOU!!  If you can avoid doing so, don’t try to walk out on your own until you have given rescuers at least 72 hours to find you.





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