[Photo courtesy of Hal Whiting, KI2U]
It was a sunny day, not a cloud in the sky, when Hal Whiting, KI2U, Todd Kluxdal, Kluxdal’s father and Whiting’s two sons decided to go out to the Poverty Mountain area in Arizona to search for airplane crash sites. Whiting, who lives in St George, Utah, and Kluxdal, who lives in Mesquite, Nevada, took two vehicles that day. According to Whiting, they always take two vehicles, just in case a problem pops up: “We always have two spare tires, extra gasoline and a tow rope. We take enough food and supplies to stay two or three days.” In addition to the extra equipment, Whiting took the one thing he never goes without — his ham radio.
“It was a bit after lunch, about 73 miles into our trip,” Whiting told the ARRL, “when we were flagged down by a man wanting to know if we had a satellite phone, since he couldn’t get coverage on his cell phone.” Whiting didn’t have a satellite phone, but he asked the man if this was an emergency. Whiting said that the man told him that one of his friends had been injured when her ATV rolled on top of her. “I told him I could call for help on my ham radio,” he said. The injured woman was knocked unconscious by the fall, but had regained consciousness and was speaking coherently, but was in pain.
“I picked up my mic and put out a call on the 146.910 repeater, one of four repeaters run by Dean Cox, NR7K,” Whiting said. “I called for assistance a couple of times when Mac Magee, N6LRG, of the Cane Beds area in Arizona, answered.”
“Mac lives about 50 miles away from the accident site” Whiting said. “It’s funny — it’s usually Washington County hams who are on the repeaters, since that’s the direction they’re pointed in. But Mac lives in Mohave County. And the accident happened in Mohave County. We were lucky, since if the call was answered by a ham in Washington County, there would have been a delay in them getting the info to the proper authorities in Mohave County, but with Mac answering, all our information went right to the proper place.”
That morning, Magee told the ARRL that he came into my shack “and for some reason, turned on the 2 meter rig and it happened to be on the 146.910 repeater. I usually have a problem with the repeater ‘hearing’ me, so I rarely use it. About 11:20 Arizona time, I heard someone call and say they had emergency traffic and needed help. I fully expected a bevy of hams to answer the call, since so many are in range of that machine, but after his second call, and no answer, I took it.”
Magee said that the calling station had been flagged down by another motorist. “He told me there had been an accident in the vicinity of Poverty Mountain,” he said. “I really had no idea where that was, but I began to write down details. As soon as I had basic info, I called 911. The Mohave County Sheriff Office answered; I explained who I was and what the call was about.”
The dispatcher asked Magee for the coordinates to the site, and Magee relayed the request to Whiting. “I looked at my GPS and gave Mac my coordinates, but he said the dispatcher wanted the coordinates from the accident site,” Whiting said. “So I got in my 4-wheel drive and drove down the ridge to the site, about 5600 feet above sea level, and got the coordinates. I had to drive back to the ridge, another 1000 feet up, to call Mac back, because I couldn’t get a signal down there.”
Whiting told the ARRL that in addition to his ham radio, he also carries a set of FRS radios. “I gave one of the FRS radios to Todd and he drove his Jeep down the ridge to the accident site,” he said. “I kept the other one and Todd was able to relay me information about the injured woman’s condition and I was able to relay that information to Mac who in turn relayed it to the 911 dispatcher. Mac put the mic right up to the phone so the dispatcher could hear exactly what was going on.”
Magee said the 911 dispatcher requested more information: “While Hal was replying, I held the phone up to my radio speaker. When he finished with the details, I asked them if they copied that. The dispatcher said he did, and they held me on the line. Hal and I talked a while as he gave more data. When the dispatcher returned, they said a chopper was being dispatched from Phoenix! Well, we finished that call after they had the actual accident site GPS coordinates that Hal had passed on.”
With emergency help on the way, Kluxdal returned to the ridge and he and Whiting and his group went on their way to go check out an airplane crash site, the original intent of their trip. “The family members told us to go on and get on with our trip, so we did, after making sure they were all okay,” Whiting said. “So we left to go to the crash site, about 3-4 miles away. As we were getting ready to return, we saw the helicopter overhead, taking the injured woman to the hospital in Las Vegas. We returned to the top of the ridge and a sheriff’s deputy was there and he told us that our GPS coordinates were off, but only by 20 feet! He said that the helicopter crew was real happy that they were so on-target.”
Whiting said they were glad to have been able to help. “This is a remote area,” he said. “There’s only one way in, one way out with no shortcuts to get in and out. There are only dirt roads, and it can get very muddy when it rains a lot. I was out that way two weeks ago and got stuck in the mud there, but it was all dry this past weekend.”
Whiting said he learned a few things after this trip: “I am glad I had my radio equipment with me, and I am glad there was someone listening on the repeater to take the emergency call. Having the spare FRS radios created an efficient means for relay with a non-ham person, and having the GPS equipment provided a very effective means for the helicopter rescue team to locate the accident, since they did not want the road designation information but the exact patient coordinates. It would have been useless to have my equipment if there had not been someone listening, proving there is a good reason to keep your radios with you and in good operating condition.”
Whiting, who was first licensed in 1976, is the ARESÂ® Assistant Emergency Coordinator for Washington County. A CAD Manager and Aerial Photographer for Bulloch Brothers in Mesquite, Nevada (he and Kluxdal are co-workers), he is currently teaching an Amateur Radio licensing class to 13 prospective hams at the Dixie Regional Medical Center in St George.
Magee said that before this incident he had never been involved in an actual emergency. “I have established emergency communications networks, in particular for the LDS Church in Newbury Park, California, where I was the Stake Emergency Communications Coordinator.” He told the ARRL. “Our communications group won the first worldwide test of the system back in the late 1980s. This is like ARRL Field Day, but involved mostly LDS members and facilities, then under the name of Mercury Amateur Radio Association (MARA). I feel very pleased in knowing that I had the opportunity to serve in this rescue incident and that every penny I spent on my system, radio and antenna was certainly worth it. In these days of extensive cell phone service and coverage, isn’t it satisfying to know that ham radio can still be of use for public service?”