Ham Radio Saving A Life Locally!

On Tuesday, June 15, Alden Sumner Jones IV, KC1JWR, was hiking on the southern part of the Appalachian trail in Vermont (it’s also been reported as being on the Long Trail) with his cousins at around 12:30 PM. Alden started feeling light headed, his pulse was racing and the next thing he remembers is waking up with an EMT named Dave, from AMR out of Springfield, MA, who was hiking and saw Alden go down. Alden had suffered seizures. It was later determined that this was caused by low blood sugar. Dave attempted to call 911 on his cell phone. He could connect, but the 911 operator couldn’t understand him. At this point, Alden pulled out his HT ham radio, a BaoFeng.

He made contact through the K1FFK repeater. This repeater is located on Mt. Greylock on 146.91. The repeater is owned and maintained by the Northern Berkshire Amateur Radio Club. The initial call went out just before the Cycle 1 of the Western Massachusetts Traffic Net. Ron Wonderlick, AG1W, took the call. Alden initially asked if the 911 call went through. Ron began an eight hour process of acting as a relay between Alden, the emergency crews and various others.

The Traffic Net was truncated and the frequency was cleared by Peter Mattice, KD2JKV, who also stood by as a backup for Ron. KC1JPU, Matthew Sacco, was also monitoring and after a short consultation with Ron & Peter, proceeded to head to the staging area where the Fire and EMS crews were going to come from.

In Matthew’s own words, this what happened when he arrived at the staging area:

As I arrived at the staging point set up by the Fire Department, I met up with Fire Chief Scott Moore (95-C1) of the Wilmington Fire Department who was Incident Command. I told him how I heard about the incident and offered my services. I then got to work attempting to make contact with Ron over the 91. We were in a bit of a shadow as far as coverage went from the 91 and my first attempt to make contact with my HT was to no avail. I then went to my truck to try my mobile radio which also failed to open up the repeater. Running out of options, I went into my radio bag and was able to construct a roll up J-Pole out of some 450 ohm ladder line, a short length of coax, and male UHF connector. In that bag I keep some basic soldering equipment and a power inverter for the truck. Once it was constructed and tested, I grabbed my fishing pole from the back seat, put a weight on the end, and cast the weight into the highest branch I could find. I tied the J-Pole to the end of the line and reeled it up about 20' into the tree with the help of a barrel connector and about another 24' of coax. I tried that antenna plugged into the back of my mobile radio and we were up and running! I was then in contact with Net Control!

Now the struggle was to find the hiker. Alden’s (KC1JWR) status was communicated between the EMT on site through the ham radio and impromptu net set up through Ron (AG1W) and Matthew (KC1JPU). The information passed through the net was used to determine what type of rescue equipment would be necessary. Finding the location based on landmarks was proving too difficult. One of the people on site had a cell phone with a GPS unit and they were able to get a location in Google Maps Plus Code. That was converted into latitude and longitude. At this point, it was 4:30 in the afternoon.

On site were members of the Wilmington, VT Fire Department, Wardsboro, VT Fire Department, Deerfield Valley Ambulance, and Rescue Inc., all served through the ham radio net being operated on the K1FFK repeater.

Once the rescuers were getting close to Alden’s location, it was determined that they were not going to be able to get an ATV to the location for an evacuation. So, the determination was made to contact New York State Search and Rescue for a helicopter. Again, this need was relayed through the ham net. Almost all the communication, all day, was through the ham net, or, relayed to the phone by Ron (AG1W) or Peter (KD2JKV).

Meanwhile, Alden is conscious and spending time talking to the EMT and the rescuers about ham radio and how to get their licenses.

An area is cleared by another hiker as a place for the helicopter to lower it’s basket. The GPS coordinates are relayed through the ham net to the helicopter crew. The rescuers took Alden through the woods to the clearing and the helicopter arrived at around 7PM. While the rescuers were talking the helicopter in on their radios, they were having trouble making contact through their rubber duck antennas. So, Alden, who had a better antenna for his HT, lent it to the rescuers for better communication. Alden was initially flown to Woodford Mountain for evaluation and treatment. He was then flown to the hospital in Albany NY. During the flight, Alden again talked to the pilots and the other rescuers about ham radio.

During the rescue, one fire fighter from Wilmington was injured. This forced part of the team to stay the night with him in a shelter along the trail. He was brought out safely and is doing well. Alden is suffering from a number of injuries from the seizures, but he is also recovering.

Neil Van Dyke (N1TNC), the Search & Rescue Coordinator for the Vermont Dept. of Public Safety was the one who called in Search and Rescue. When asked about the event, Mr. Van Dyke said “Ham radio was a key part of the incident and played a major role in the rescue”. Alden said it even better, “Ham radio saved my life last night and I am very thankful for how everyone helped me.”

Well done to all involved in this event. Thank you for all you did for Alden Jones and for being great ham radio operators.