Ham Helps Out in Riverside County Desert Rescue
On the afternoon of Saturday, January 16, Christopher Walsh, KJ6BBS, of Irvine, California, was listening to radio traffic on 446.760 MHz, a channel used by the Los Angeles area-based Pocket Auto-Patch Association (PAPA) system -- an Amateur Radio network of 22 interlinked analog and digital D-STAR repeaters that provides extensive coverage of the Southern California region and beyond -- when he heard an emergency radio call break from Jose Hernandez, KI6PCK, of Thousand Oaks, California, reporting an injured male who had broken some ribs from an ATV-type accident.
According to Walsh, John Stevens, KI6FKP, of Topanga Canyon attempted to take the emergency call during the break, but he did not have the ability to access a phone to contact emergency services. "After hearing the emergency call and the nature of the emergency," Walsh said, "I decided that time was of the essence and so I broke in to radio traffic, asking Hernandez what assistance I could offer. I asked him what the nature of the emergency was and to provide me with as specific description as possible of his geographical location. He responded with a description -- on the Bradshaw Trail about 15 miles northeast of Niland, California -- as well as the GPS coordinates of the injured party."
Walsh immediately contacted 911, "but since I live in Irvine, I was initially directed to the Orange County dispatcher," he explained. "The emergency call's origin was based in Riverside County, just over the border of Imperial County. I then got a hold of the Riverside office of the California Highway Patrol and gave them the description of injured party's location and GPS coordinates."
A few minutes later, Walsh received a call from Riverside County Sheriff's office, asking for the location information; during that call, he also received a call from Riverside County Fire Department. "Riverside County Fire had asked more direct question about the injured party, such as how old he was, whether or not there were any visible injuries and what the general description of the landscape was of the injured party's location," Walsh said. "These and many more questions from the various rescue agencies were then immediately relayed to Jose who provided detailed answers."
Over the course of a half an hour, Walsh relayed questions from both Hernandez to the rescuing agencies -- Riverside County Fire, Riverside County Sheriff, CHP and Imperial County Sheriff -- and vice versa. "During that time, Riverside Fire coordinated with me, gathering navigational information on how Jose and the injured party had entered Bradshaw Trail into the desert, so as to report to the land-based rescue units how to arrive to the scene. At this point I received a direct telephone call from a Riverside County firefighter. I passed him information from Jose about the physical description of their entrance to the trail -- 8 miles north of a campground near Niland, off of Hot Mineral Springs Road."
During this entire process, Walsh advised Hernandez not to move from his location, to stand by for more information regarding the rescue and to relay any updates they had. "Jose wanted to know when the rescuers would arrive, so I asked the first agency to call me back, which was Riverside Fire. They reported that CHP had a spotter plane about two minutes out from their location and that a rescue helicopter was about 20 minutes inbound. Jose then told me that the injured party was experiencing very difficult breathing and that it was worsening. Imperial County Sheriff also reported that they had an inbound rescue helicopter with an ETA of 19 minutes."
Less than a half-hour later, Hernandez told Walsh that a red helicopter was directly approaching them and that the injured party was showing signs of relief. "There was a long pause between this and the closing communication when he reported that the injured party was airlifted to a nearby hospital and that the rescue effort was a success," Walsh said. "Thanks to the PAPA system, Jose Hernandez, KI6PCK, and all of the rescue agencies involved, a man was successfully rescued. Without ham radio and the PAPA system infrastructure, who knows what kind of suffering this individual would have to have experienced before he could arrive to the nearest hospital. I am so glad I was able to contribute to this effort, and would never hesitate to help another person or people in need of rescue. Amateur Radio saved the day!"