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Amateur Radio Assists with Rescue in Great Smoky Mountains

03/30/2010

On Sunday, March 28 -- a day with a lot of rain, wind, sleet and, fog -- John Oakberg, NK4N, of Sevierville, Tennessee, went out hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Mt LeConte. When he was about 1 mile up from Alum Cave Bluff, he came across Judy Potter, 57, of Atlanta who had broken her ankle while on the trail. Oakberg reached for his cell phone to call 911, but there was no coverage available. He then reached for his handheld transceiver and put out a call to any Amateur Radio operators who may be listening via some nearby VHF 2 meter repeaters.

Scott Wyrick, KD4CWB, of Seymour, Tennessee, told the ARRL that he was the first to respond to Oakberg's call. After he obtained the necessary information, Wyrick called the National Park Service dispatcher, requesting that they dispatch a rescue team. "John's signal was noisy into the machines, but two other stations -- Dean Webb, N4NLT, and Cleve Hayes, KB4UAL -- were able to copy him on the input frequencies," he told the ARRL. Wyrick lives in Sevier County, the same county where the National Park is located.

Webb, who was driving across Fort Loudoun Dam in Loudon County -- heard the emergency call calling for assistance on his mobile station on 146.940. "His signal was poor into the repeater and it was very scratchy," he told WATE, a television station in Knoxville, Tennessee. Webb and Hayes quickly set up a radio relay with Wyrick from John Oakberg on the mountain.

Hayes -- who was at his home in Knox County for the relay -- told WATE that he "could relay what [John Oakberg] was saying to Scott, who was on the phone to the National Park Service to get the information that they wanted, such as height, weight, age and does she have any medical issues."

Wyrick told the ARRL that the rescue team was able to reach Potter after a few hours, around 2 PM. They carried her to safety several miles down the mountainside, reaching the staging area set up in the parking lot at the base of the mountain approximately three hours later. Paramedics treated her on the scene, but she refused transport via ambulance and left by private vehicle with her freinds who took her to the Service County Medical Center for additional treatment. According to WATE, she is scheduled for surgery in Atlanta to pin and plate two broken bones in her left ankle.

"It hit a point where I was just in tears," Potter told WATE. "You can say you're going to be tough and get out of this, but you just get weary. And I think having somebody come an hour or two quicker and being able to get moving helped keep my spirits going. People all over the place that I don't even know helped me. Thank you!"  -- Thanks to Scott Wyrick, KD4CWB, and WATE for the information



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