Fatal West Virginia Tower Collapse Takes Out Ham Radio Repeaters
The collapse of two radio towers in North-Central West Virginia on February 1 resulted in three deaths and injuries to two individuals. The tragedy also resulted in the loss of three Amateur Radio repeaters belonging to the Stonewall Jackson Amateur Radio Association (SJARA) and forming part of the HamTalk linked repeater system, which were available to assist with emergency and disaster communication. Richard Wilt, K8TPH, reported that one tower went down, killing two workers on the 300 foot structure and taking down a second, shorter tower. An emergency responder died after being struck by falling debris. Two other tower workers suffered minor injuries.
“The towers are an important link in maintaining cell service and repeaters for several commercial companies locally,” Wilt said. “The towers also were in use by the Amateur Radio community with three repeaters located on the towers. These Amateur repeaters are a major part of the North-Central West Virginia emergency communications to assist the Office of Emergency Management of Harrison County, FEMA, and the American Red Cross.”
The Stonewall Jackson ARA has a memorandum of understanding with the Harrison County Commission and the cities of Clarksburg and Bridgeport to assist during emergencies that require communication support. SJARA Vice President David Anderson, N8YPE, is the Harrison County Emergency Coordinator.
Wilt said the club has moved its weekly emergency net to another repeater, but he said it’s not known when the towers will be replaced. He said the SJARA spent a substantial amount last year on repeater maintenance, and he expressed concerns about the cost of replacing the repeaters.
According to news accounts, West Virginia State Police said three workers approximately 70 feet above the ground and a fourth man about 20 feet above the ground were on the tower. They were said to be on the tower to repair structural supports.