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Ham Radio Isn’t Just for Hurricanes: Ham Radio Assists in Rescue of Missing Mariner

Ham Radio Isn’t Just for Hurricanes: Ham Radio Assists in Rescue of Missing Mariner

November 19, 2018 2:31 pm0 comments

by Larry Pruss, NP2LP & Fred Kleber, K9VV / NP2X
[St. John, US Virgin Islands, October 3, 2018] It was Thursday night and I was nodding in and out while watching TV. From the other room I heard what sounded like a weak scratchy signal trying to access the local repeater. I ignored it at first, and heard scratchiness again. The “L” in CW at the end of each transmission meant the transmitting station was via the UHF link of the newly installed inter-island repeater system.

Half asleep I stumbled into the other room and transmitted, “This is Fred, NP2X on St. Croix. The station trying to access the repeater, you are very noisy into the system, please try it again.” Again I heard a very scratchy station breaking the squelch of the repeater. Again I responded, “Sorry, you’re still unintelligible into the repeater. If you are using a handheld, please try moving a bit and try again.” On the next transmission I could make out a couple of syllables in a young girl’s voice.” I responded, “OK that location is better and I heard a little bit. Don’t change your location. What is your call sign?”

In a calm voice I heard, “This is Tia”. I immediately recognized the voice as that of Tatiana “Tia” Pruss, NP2RE. Tia is the youngest daughter of St. John hams Larry (NP2LP) & Jennifer (NP2QT) Pruss. Finally my head was becoming clearer and I thought to myself, “Isn’t it a bit late for someone of Tia’s age to be on the radio?” I responded to Tia, “OK Tia, I understand that is you. Is everything OK? Do you need help?” Again the answer was a scratchy uncopiable signal. I responded, “Tia, please give me a yes or no on if you need help.” Tia calmly responded, “No, everything is OK.” I responded, “OK Tia, I will standby on frequency in case you need anything.” What I heard unfold made me proud to be a ham in the USVI.

Unbeknownst to me, Tia’s parents had been attending the monthly meeting of St. John Rescue, a volunteer organization serving the St John, USVI community. Shortly after arriving to the meeting, St. John Rescue received a request for assistance from the VI Police Department. They had received a report of a dingy spotted washed up on the rocks in Reef Bay with no occupant. Larry and Jennifer immediately left the St. John Rescue meeting and headed to Reef Bay. Other members of St. John Rescue headed to the marina to begin conducting the maritime portion of the search.

What follows is Larry’s summary in his own words. “Jennifer and I set about traversing the various shorelines and beaches in the dark in search of the boater. The terrain became too rocky for Jennifer to continue, so she remained behind perched on the rocks providing flood lighting. As the Rescue radio coverage was marginal, Jennifer and I kept in touch with our VHF amateur HAM radios. When the lights of the Rescue boat became visible in the bay, both Jennifer and I found we had unreliable communications with the boat.

I came upon the dingy which had crashed upon the rocks. After finding the dingy and continued traversing the rocky shoreline, I pondered returning due to the jagged rocky shoreline. Just before making a decision to return, I encountered the boater huddled along the shore in a rock crevice. The boater reported his boat hit the reef, was thrown from the dingy, and ended up on the rocky shore. His position was an extremely treacherous spot which the Rescue boat could not reach. We were at the water’s edge at the base of a tall seashore cliff. Besides some minor scratches, the boater was cold and thirsty. I gave him a Mylar blanket for warmth and he gladly drank the water we brought.

With no cell service and having difficulty with our VHF radio, the immediate need was to notify the Rescue boat that we had located the missing person and discuss his evacuation.

Using our Yaesu Ham radios Jennifer called our daughters Tia, NP2RE and Skylar, NP2QS, at our home and requested they relay we had located the missing person to the Rescue boat. Tia and Skylar immediately went about contacting the some other Rescue members that passed along the message that we had found the missing individual.

The boater was not able to hike out from our location as he was both exhausted and without shoes. Jennifer hiked to the top of the hill to acquire some shoes from a house to protect the patient’s feet as we moved him from the sharp rocks. Due to the proximity of the reef and large waves, it was also not feasible to land the Rescue boat on the beach. Another Rescue member, Dylan Baird, arrived on scene and managed to reach me. He had taken a 4-wheeler to the site, hiked down the beach, and climbed the dangerous rocks to reach the boater’s location. Dylan had the good idea to try using the dingy to get our Rescue subject to the Rescue boat. In the dark, Dylan and I pulled the dingy off the rocks, bailed enough water out of it to keep it afloat, and started the engine. Dylan made a break for the reef to get the boat further drained of water and to coordinate next steps with the Rescue boat.

I stayed with the boater. Dylan reached the Rescue boat and returned with Brian Grassi, another Rescue member, a short time later. We put a lifejacket on the boater and together they transported him to the Rescue boat. Upon reaching the harbor, he was transported to the local clinic for treatment.”

We felt good about a number of things:

 Within approximately thirty minutes of locating the injured boater, he was transported to the Rescue boat.  Our daughters aged 12 and 13 flawlessly executed the relay of critical information using their newly learned skills. (Note: Tia has been HAM licensed 2 weeks and Skylar 5 months)  The HAM radio and Rescue training our family received and practiced, may have well saved a life

Following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Larry and Jennifer Pruss have been the sparkplugs of a new generation of hams on St. John. In the last 6 months, and with the support of St John Rescue, they have held two HAM class sessions resulting in 23 new hams on St. John (19) St. Thomas (2) and the BVI (2) have been licensed through their instructional efforts. These new licensees are members of the community, St. John Rescue, the National Park Service, the Fire Department, and include 4 children under 13 years old.

Want to know more about ham radio? Check out http://www.arrl.org/what-is-ham-radio Want to know more about ham radio in the Virgin Islands? Please visit http://www.vihamradio.org Want to know more about St John Rescue? Please visit http://www.stjohnrescue.com/

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