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When All Else Fails: Amateur Radio Helps Rescue Lost Hiker


Editor's note: The following event took place on Sunday afternoon, December 11, 2022, and was told to ARRL News by Raul "Skip" Camejo, AC1LC, Public Information Coordinator for the ARRL New Hampshire Section.

The amateur radio repeater on the summit of Gunstock Mountain helped connect the lost hiker in a remote area of New Hampshire. The repeater is affiliated with New England Digital Emergency Communications Network, NEDECN.

A New Hampshire man and his dog went out for a day hike yesterday in the Belmont area of central New Hampshire. Things went well until his cell phone battery died. With darkness near and a prediction of snow, a leisurely day hike was quickly turning into a serious health and safety issue for the hiker.

Fortunately for him, he is also an amateur radio operator and brought along his digital mobile radio (DMR) handheld radio with him. With no cell phone capability, he made a call on the DMR New Hampshire statewide channel through the Gunstock (Mountain) DMR repeater, seeking assistance. His call was answered by Bill Barber, NE1B, who was monitoring the channel. The hiker asked Barber to call his wife, because he could not text or get "pinged" with his dead cell phone. Barber contacted the hiker's wife, and she was glad to hear that someone was in contact with him. Unfortunately, he did not know exactly where he was and believed he would have to walk through brush for an hour or more to get to a road.

His wife called the local police department, who began a search with their local fire department. Amateur radio was the only communication from about 4:30 to 6:30 PM. Barber was able to make contact with Rick Zach, K1RJZ, who lives closer to the search area, and was familiar with the area's snowmobile trails and roads. Zach coordinated communication between the responding police units and the lost radio operator on the New Hampshire Statewide talkgroup.

Police and fire units attempted to assist in the search by activating their sirens in different locations to try to obtain a location on the ham operator, but he was not able to hear them.

Another amateur radio operator, Chuck Cunningham, K1MIZ, was monitoring the events on Net Watch and noticed that the lost ham had accidentally changed channels. This information was passed along, and 2-meter DMR communication continued until the lost ham walked out to a road and was able to advise searchers of his location. The search and checkout ended successfully at 6:30 PM.

Thanks to the efforts of Bill Barber, NE1B (ARRL Life Member); Rick Zach, K1RJZ (ARRL member), and Chuck Cunningham, K1MIZ.

Barber listed some very important lessons learned from the incident:

Radio batteries last longer on DMR radios than on analog mode.

Even his wife had trouble with her cell phone coverage at home.

Monitor your local state DMR channel to help others nearby.

You may want to program 146.52 FM next to your state channel for signal strength direction finding if and when you're out of repeater range. Some hams still monitor 146.52 MHz simplex.

Stay on the primary channel until you know more hams are nearby to direction find your signal.

Hike with DMR. Network sites cover many areas of New England that do not have any cell service.

Hike with a flashlight.

And I would like to add one more item to the list. My son is one of the leaders of Pemigewasset Valley (New Hampshire) Search & Rescue Team and unfortunately responds to too many calls for lost hikers. One very important item that he stresses is that hikers file a "flight plan." Let someone who is not going on the hike know where you are going, how long you expect to be gone, and what communication equipment or capability you have with you. This also applies if you are going out hunting, fishing, or boating.

Raul "Skip" Camejo, AC1LC
Public Information Coordinator
ARRL New Hampshire Section



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