Chuck, WC5RP, is now Silent Key.
Hams Help Save the Life of Fellow Ham
It was 10:00 PM as I reached for the power button of my ham radio and call it a night. Just before my finger touched the switch I heard a faint call -- someone was lost and needed help. Naturally, I would stick around to hear more. After all, this is one of those rare moments many hams live for.
Ron, KB6UF was not only lost in the Sierra Nevada mountains but also stuck. While driving alone from Louisiana to California to visit his grandkids for the Thanksgiving holiday the 68 year old missed the exit where he was scheduled to stay at a hotel. So he turned to his GPS. It instructed Ron to turn here and go there. The road turned into a gravel road and Ron knew something was wrong. "I felt like I was going in circles," he later said. He was 8 miles from the main road.
Pitched black and no street lights for miles, Ron hit a ditch. The front wheels of his small truck were in the air and it was clear he was going nowhere fast. He checked his cell phone. No cells. He has a 2 meter radio in his truck. No answers on any local repeaters. He turned to 40 meters, remembering there are usually a bunch of hams on 7.195 MHz.
Within minutes, multiple hams were offering advice; use the low gear, fill in the hole with brush and sand, rock the truck back and forth. Somebody asked if Ron's GPS was working. It was. Ron gave out his coordinates over the air. Now as many as 100 hams monitoring the frequency knew Ron's exact location: in the hills near Mono Lake, California, near the Nevada-California border.
Dave, N5SDO in New Mexico stepped up and became net control. Everyone including Ron can hear Dave. Dave assessed Ron's predicament by asking pertinent questions: Are you alone? How much fuel do you have? Do you have food or water? Is there somebody we can call for you? Ron gave Dave an 800 number to the Sheriff's office. Dave tried the 800 number but it was a non-functioning number.
I thought about that non-working 800 number for a second. Maybe the Sheriff's office discontinued the 800 service due to budget cuts, so I Googled the 800 number and found the local dispatch number to Mono Lake Sheriff's office in California. I called it. I had to explain I'm a ham radio operator in Chicago and I'm monitoring a man stranded and lost in hills near Mono Lake. The dispatcher said she would bring this info to her sergeant. Ten minutes later the sergeant returned my call. I quickly explained what had been happening over the past 90 minutes. "Does he need a tow or is this a search and rescue?," asked the sheriff. I relayed the question to Dave who then asked Ron. Ron said he was requesting an officer. As soon as the sheriff heard "requesting an officer" he said someone will be there in 30 minutes.
When Ron announced on the radio he could see the lights of the sheriff's car approaching, many hams monitoring the frequency cheered on air. Working together Ron doubled the nylon rope the sheriff had in an attempt to pull Ron's small truck out of the ditch. The rope snapped. Luckily, there was a piece long enough to triple fold the line and that proved strong enough to pull Ron's vehicle free. Again, hams cheered on the air as Ron was following the Sheriff back to town.
The sheriff said, "It's a good thing you had that radio otherwise we would have found you in the Spring. Nobody comes up here this time of year."
HF was the only way Ron was able to get help. Thank goodness he had a good HF mobile or he might have been out there for days (or longer). Several comments were heard stating "that does it, I was thinking about putting an HF rig in the mobile but now I'm convinced and going to do it" after listening in that night.