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MARS HF Net Participants Aid in Response to Fatal Maritime Disaster

07/29/2021

On July 6, an evening Army Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS) HF practice net in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region 2 (New York and New Jersey) was interrupted by several “mayday” distress calls on the channel, which is shared with the maritime service. Net control station Ron Tomo, KE2UK, immediately halted training and attempted (without success) to establish radio communication with the station in distress. Tomo then directed two other net members who heard the distress call — John Hoover, K2XU, and Wayne Gearing, K2WG — to attempt to establish communication and offer assistance.

While the other net members were attempting to contact the vessel by radio, Tomo contacted the US Coast Guard (USCG) Station at Jones Beach Island in New York, which alerted the USCG Sector Command at Long Island Sound to join the MARS operators on frequency. MARS operators remained on frequency to assist the USCG in listening for the distress call.

Several hours later, the fishing vessel Falling Star was identified as missing with 15 individuals on board, all from Honduras. Ten days later, the USCG confirmed that 10 of the passengers survived in a skiff and were rescued by a passing commercial oil tanker — the MTM Amsterdam — which spotted their small craft. Tragically, the skipper of the Falling Star died 1 day before the survivors were found and was buried at sea.

The vessel was en route from Jamaica to Guatemala when it’s reported to have rolled over without warning on July 6, just before midnight.

MARS volunteers alerted the USCG to the vessel in distress several hours before the Falling Star was identified and confirmed as missing. While 10 of those aboard Falling Star were rescued, five others didn’t make it home after this tragic event.

The Jamaica Defence Force (JFD) Coast Guard collaborated with counterparts from the US, Honduras, Nicaragua, Colombia, Cuba, and the Cayman Islands in the search for the vessel.

 



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