HAMNET Report 24 June 2018

In Lake Toba, North Sumatra, the ferry, Sinar Bangun, overloaded with over 200 passengers, sank on 18th June. It was apparently over five times over the passenger capacity of 43 passengers and had only 45 life jackets. It is holiday season in Indonesia, so the demand for space was very great. Winds were blowing hard, and waves were rough, while heavy rain made conditions worse. All in all, a recipe for disaster, and finally the ferry capsized completely, leaving 3 confirmed dead, some 190 persons missing, and only 18 survivors rescued.

An absolutely avoidable tragedy, were it not for the impatience of the local people, who could not or would not wait for another vessel. The agony for the surviving relatives cannot be imagined. Our sincere condolences to the nations involved.

The American local press has again been full of the ARRL Field Day Event across their country and coming to an end today. The Sun has been playing ball, just a little bit, with sunspot numbers daily in the 40’s, the Solar Flux Index being in mid 80’s, and a low K index contributing to reasonable communications in the latter half of last week. There will be many post-mortems on the video and audio blogs this coming week, so I hope to be able to report on their exercise successes next Sunday.

Southgate Amateur Radio News carries an insert this week on an example of amateur radio filling the gaps in urban or national disaster management.

“The Indian Express newspaper reports on the invisible warriors who battle Mumbai monsoons – Radio Amateurs.

“The forces on the frontlines of Mumbai’s monsoon crisis-management have a set of images that define their functions. The fire brigade invariably rescues youngsters stranded out in the sea at Bandra Fort, employees of the BMC clear out fallen trees, guard open manholes and disinfect mosquito breeding spots, hospitals witness queues of patients with water-borne diseases, the police are seen standing in waist-high water diverting traffic and the National Disaster Response Force frantically remove rubble from collapsed buildings, working to save lives.

“All the while, there is no such picture to define the importance of a band of ‘invisible’ volunteers who pull the strings from the sidelines and ensure that lines of communications between the agencies never break down. For close to half a decade, Ham or amateur radio operators have worked side by side with the BMC during monsoons. While they are kept on standby by the civic body in case a disaster or torrential rain knocks down electricity and phone services, the amateur radio operators also perform a vital function by relaying information from all corners of the city on days with forecasts of rough weather.

“ ‘This is a technical hobby and our expertise is special, which common people do not have. During a disaster, communications are very important,’ says Grant Road resident and Ham operator, Sudhir Shah VU2SVS..

“The 71-year-old usually oversees operations from the BMC’s Disaster Management Control Room, which has its own transceiver, directing his colleagues on the field in other parts of the city. While phones and hotlines ring off the hook inside the control room and bring information from all corners of the city, Shah’s messages have a far greater reach. ‘This is a secondary channel of communication. We are highly mobile and independent. We are a voluntary service and use our own equipment and are always on standby,’ he adds.” Close quotation

Thank you to the Indian Express for this report.

From Tokyo comes a good idea. The Mainichi, Japan’s National Daily, remarks on the fact that “Tourists can be especially vulnerable during a natural disaster, unable to speak the local language and unsure of what to do or where to go in an emergency. With that in mind, the Japan Tourism Agency has an iOS and Android app called ‘Safety tips’ to help foreign visitors navigate emergency situations such as the June 18 quake in western Japan’s Osaka Prefecture.

“Downloadable from the Apple App Store and Google Play, ‘Safety tips’ uses location services and push notifications to relay earthquake, tsunami, volcano and weather warnings to affected users. Available in Japanese, English, Korean, and both simplified and traditional Chinese, the app also provides evacuation information and multilingual communication cards to allow users to ask locals for essential information, such as ‘Is it safe here?’ and ‘Where is the emergency shelter?’

“However, the app is also designed to help foreign travellers overcome more commonplace problems while in Japan, with a list of emergency service numbers, a guide to local medical institutions in case of illness or injury, heatstroke warnings, and even a train route finder function.

“As the Safety tip app website notes, ‘Japan is a country which is prone to natural disasters,’ and tourists need ‘accurate information in the event of a natural disaster.’ That need has been growing as more visitors are arriving on Japan’s shores than ever before. In 2014, the year the app was launched, the country welcomed just over 13.4 million foreign visitors. That rose to about 28.7 million in 2017, and arrivals were increasing at their fastest pace ever in the first four months of this year, according to Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO) statistics.” Close quotation.

Well done, Japan!

At 7pm last night, our national telecoms agency killed my normal email address, telephone line and username again, and I am seriously considering not invoking their services again. The pathetic and confused service does not merit my support. Please note that my email address changes to zs1dfr@gmail.com until further notice.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 17 June 2018

It is reported in the ARRL Newsletter that Phoenix sailor and radio amateur Timothy Henning, KE7WMZ, has expressed his gratitude to the Maritime Mobile Service Network (MMSN) for intercepting and handling his distress call on 14.300 MHz. Net control operator Harry Williams, W0LS, caught Henning’s call requesting assistance with an urgent medical condition on May 23. Henning, some 200 nautical miles south of Ensenada, Mexico, in his sailing vessel Victory Cat, reported that a severe vision problem had developed in his right eye, and he was seeking immediate medical attention and advice.

Williams contacted the US Coast Guard in Alameda, California, relaying all information concerning the medical problem and staying on the air with Henning for several hours. The Coast Guard, in turn, relayed the information to the on-duty flight surgeon who advised that Henning seek immediate medical attention at the closest port of call.

It was decided that Henning would continue on to Ensenada, and the Coast Guard arranged to have someone meet him there and transport him to the Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego, while his wife stood by with the vessel at the dock.

Ultimately, it was determined that Henning had a detached retina, and he was transported to Phoenix for surgery.

“I appreciate, beyond words, that the Maritime Net was able to help us get in contact with the USCG and simply be at the other end of the HF radio, helping us through a challenging time,” Henning told the MMSN afterward. “I especially want to thank Harry, W0LS. He was extremely professional and invaluable in linking us effectively with the USCG. We were just completing our 10 years round-the-world sail voyage.”

Also in the Newsletter is a report that Iran apparently has found 10 metres an ideal spot to operate various radars. The interference was audible in International Amateur Radio Union Region 1 (IARU R1) and perhaps elsewhere in the world.

“Iranian radars were very active on our 10-meter band every day [in May],” reported IARU Monitoring System (IARUMS) Coordinator for Region 1 Wolf Hadel, DK2OM, in the IARUMS newsletter. “On 28.860 MHz, we could daily receive the strong and long-lasting signals. Other frequencies were used in [frequency hopping] mode.”

The list of additional Amateur Radio intruders on 10 meters included — or in some cases, no longer included — some of the usual suspects. Hadel reported that FM signals from Russian taxi dispatchers, driftnet fishery buoys, and Citizens Band “abusers” in Brazil have been operating on various 10-meter frequencies, “as usual.”

Meanwhile, some chronic intruding signals have disappeared. Among the missing is the 14.295 MHz harmonic from Radio Tajik on 4.765 MHz. Radio Hargeysa in Somaliland on 7.120 MHz is said to have been off the air for several weeks due to a transmitter failure. “We did not miss the transmissions,” quipped Hadel, who also expressed the hope that the broadcast battle between Radio Eritrea and Radio Ethiopia on 40 meters may now be at an end.

Thank you to the ARRL for these items.

And while we’re still in the Americas, this weekend sees the ARRL Field Day event, during which about 35000 radio operators are expected to go into the open air, and operate their stations off-grid, using batteries, solar power generators, and other enterprising power solutions to demonstrate their ability to maintain communications should there be no power. While they’re at it, they will be advertising the hobby to the general public by inviting them to visit their stations. I counted 19 press releases in American local newspapers, explaining the weekend’s activities, and inviting all and sundry to visit and take a look. Each field station will have a “GOTA” station, for “Get On The Air”, where non-licensed folk can operate a radio under supervision of a licensed operator, to get a sense of how it works. This is generally a hit amongst the youth, and results in many young people studying for and taking their exams to get on the air themselves. I wish South African Hams were this enthusiastic!

The Field Day ran from 12h00 yesterday to 12h00 today local American  time.

And the best news from HAMNET today concerns the excellent rains the Western Cape is experiencing at the moment. Cold fronts have been coming past at roughly 4 day intervals, bringing heavy downpours and widespread showers over the Peninsula, but also over the catchment area of our most important supply dam, Theewaterskloof, just beyond the Hottentot’s Holland mountains from us. This reporter has measured 91 mm of rain at home since the beginning of June, 20mm more than our usual average for June, and the month is just half way. Rainfall in the Theewaterskloof catchment area on Thursday alone was 93mm, and the dam’s level has risen by 4 percentage points in the last 4 days, to nearly 30% full, much more than this time last year or the previous year. More rain is expected today Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, and again on Thursday. Although it is cold here, there have been no reports of winter snow yet, which always contributes hugely to our water reservoirs as it melts. Video clips of many, many rivers flowing strongly, often for the first time in years, are available on social media, and tomorrow’s dam level reports for the week just past will make interesting reading.

Of course, no-one is advocating relaxing the water restrictions here. We’re nowhere near out of trouble yet, and will need several years of good rains to replenish the dams to full again. I hope Capetonians will remain loyal to the 50 litres per person per day, for ever. This is not a difficult goal to aim for, as we’ve been doing it now for at least 6 months, so can easily carry on. The stress of living so close to the drought-limit has made us all appreciate the value of drinkable water, and how easy it is to waste water!

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South  Africa.

HAMNET Report 10 June 2018

Today the 10th of June sees the famous Comrades Marathon taking place between Durban and Pietermaritzburg. On a very impressive spreadsheet provided by HAMNET KZN, I counted about 33 HAMNET Operators assisting with comms between the two cities.

It has actually been a busy two weeks for HAMNET KZN, as they were managing the Ironman race last weekend as well. I look forward to hearing that both events went well for the backroom boys, and hope we’ll receive a summary of proceedings from Keith and his merry band of men. Good luck for today, folks!

Alister ZS1OK of HAMNET Western Cape is looking for at least four volunteers to assist at a City of Cape Town Disaster Exercise to be held on Wednesday 20 June from 08h00 onwards. Some of the operators will be required to be mobile, and others will operate the HAMNET Comms Room at ZS1DCC in Goodwood. Details will be made known at the first briefing this week. Please contact Alister at zs1ok.alister@gmail.com if you are able to assist.

The Two-Way edition of 4 June, reported on the dramatic scenes in Guatemala the previous day when Mount Fuego, one of Central America’s most active volcanoes, stirred to life again. Mount Fuego spewed ash and lava from its heights, blanketing the lands nearby and leaving at least 69 people dead, according to Guatemala’s National Institute of Forensic Sciences.

Many people were injured and Guatemalan authorities fear the death toll may rise further as the aftermath from the sudden eruption becomes clear. More than 3,200 people were evacuated from the area.

Guatemala’s national disaster response agency, CONRED, said that the eruption lasted more than 16 hours before finally quieting. The agency described the substance ejected by the volcano as a pyroclastic flow — defined by the U.S. Geological Survey as “a high-density mix of hot lava blocks, pumice, ash and volcanic gas.”

The USGS adds that pyroclastic flows, which resemble avalanches in their overwhelming rush, can reach temperatures of up to 700 degrees Celsius and speeds of more than 80 kph. They can “knock down, shatter, bury or carry away, nearly all objects and structures in their path,” the service notes.

The eruption Sunday was Fuego’s second this year, according to CONRED, though the first incident, in February, left far less of an impact.

We thank Two-Way for  these notes, and hope the situation has stabilised now.

In slightly better news coming from Hawaii, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) was able to guide first responders via drone to rescue a Hawaiian man whose home was on the verge of being engulfed by lava from the Kilauea volcano.

The volcano erupted in early May and has resulted in thousands of evacuations and rampant destruction ever since. Last Sunday, the USGS piloted a drone to help an emergency crew navigate the harrowing landscape to save a life.

The USGS provided footage of the entire event as it played out. Its team was able aerially to locate the man trapped on his property and then use the drone to guide a rescue team out of harm’s way.

Additionally, the drone camera’s live stream was able to allow the USGS to direct other residents out of hazardous areas, due to the more informed bird’s-eye view.

Thanks to Marco Margaritoff of TheDrive for this report.

It’s great to see actual deployment of technology like this after months and months of speculation and promises of that which drones can do to make life safer. Up to now, drones have been in the hands of the rich hobbyists, who played with them, and usually irritated the aviation industry by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Finally, we have evidence of practical usage with life-saving outcomes.

NASA’s latest mission to space is the ICON satellite I mentioned a little while ago. The Ionospheric Connection Explorer will be launched this coming Thursday, and science will start coming back to us in August.

The main task assigned to the Explorer is to estimate the ionized winds that prevail at the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere and deduce the effect of atmospheric weather on the ionized winds in the seasonal tropical monsoons.

According to Thomas Immel, the ICON is designed in a way to monitor everything that comes past the boundary of space. He is the lead of the ICON mission and a physicist at the Space Sciences Lab.

The ICON satellite will orbit around the Earth at an altitude of 560 Km but will mainly monitor the area above 90 Km, where the feeble upper atmosphere of the Earth transitions into space, and the temperature is at 200 Kelvin, making it the most frigid region on Earth. However, the Sun continuously warms this area and, as a result of its UV radiation, knocks electrons off oxygen atoms, leading to the creation of ionized gas or plasma.

There are two MIGHT1 telescopes fitted in NASA’s ICON Explorer, and their main goal will be to calculate the velocity of the plasma waves by means of their Doppler shift effect between 90 and 320Km  over the Earth’s surface.

Thank you to Spaceflight News for this information. The week ahead should be fairly interesting.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 3 Jun e 2018

Keith Lowes ZS5WFD, of HAMNET KZN tells me he “has a team of 8 HAMNET members who will be assisting with communications for the Standard Bank Ironman 70.3 Durban Event taking place today the 3rd of June. Race control manned by Keith ZS5WFD will be based at Pirates Lifesaving Club in front of Suncoast Casino/Tshogo Sun Hotel complex.  Around 3000 people have entered, comprising 40 teams.

“The event consists of a 1,9Km swim at uShaka Beach,  two laps of the  bike stage along the M4 Ruth First highway out to Umdloti and back which makes 90.1Km, and finally running 2 laps along the promenade between New Beach and Blue Lagoon covering 21.1Km.

“Communications will be on 145.550 Simplex and 145.625 Highway Amateur Radio Repeater.”

Thanks Keith, and good luck with this one!

Readers are reminded of the two HAMNET bulletins you can listen to each week, on Echolink, while HF conditions are so poor. On Sunday mornings, at 07h00, HAMNET KwaZulu Natal transmits its bulletins on VHF frequencies in KZN, using the call sign ZS5DCC and via the Echolink node ZS5PMB-R. The operators are Keith ZS5WFD and Glen ZS5GD. And on Wednesday evenings, at 19h30, HAMNET Western Cape airs its bulletin on VHF frequencies in the Western Cape, using the call sign ZS1DZ, and via the Echolink node ZS1DCC-R, operated by me ZS1DFR. On the first Wednesday of each month, HWC has a members meeting at that time, so we will not be on the air this Wednesday, but definitely all other Wednesdays of the month.

As far as I am aware, HAMNET Gauteng South and Western Cape are the two regions who have made donations so far to the funds needed to make the YOTA week in South Africa in August a success. We will probably be hosting young amateurs from a large number of IARU Region One countries in that week, and any and all donations to the fund will be gratefully received. Please contact the SARL Secretary or President for further details if you wish to offer help.

Those of you interested in Digital Mobile Radio, or DMR, but knowing nothing about it, may care to listen to a podcast entitled “Dummies Guide to DMR“, which has been put together on the ICQPodcast platform. The Podcast is episode 267 on their website, and can be found at www.icqpodcast.com on the left-hand side of their front page. Clicking on that image will give you a chance to listen on the web, or download the podcast for later listening. Thank you to Southgate Amateur Radio News for drawing our attention to that.

And while you’re about it, go and watch episode 21 of TX Factor, an HD webcast from the website all about amateur radio entitled www.txfilms.co.uk/txfactor/. It’s an hour or so of good amateur radio content.

And in a worrying post, SPACEFLIGHT INSIDER reports that China has apparently lost contact with one of its two lunar radio astronomy microsatellites sent into space last week together with a communications relay spacecraft for Chang’e 4 lunar mission.

The two “Discovering the Sky at Longest Wavelengths Pathfinder” satellites, designated DSLWP-A1 and DSLWP-A2, piggybacked on the launch of the Queqiao communication relay satellite that took place on May 20, 2018. The trio lifted off atop a Long March 4C rocket from the  Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in China’s Sichuan Province.

Gbtimes.com reports that while Queqiao’s journey to the Earth-Moon L2 Lagrangian Point had passed flawlessly and DSLWP-A2 was successfully inserted into lunar orbit, the DSLWP-A1 microsatellite encountered problems during the flight. The site went on to state that there has been no communication between the ground stations and DSLWP-A1 since May 21, following a trajectory correction manoeuvre after trans-lunar injection.

Amateur radio and satellite tracking enthusiasts are trying to re-establish contact with the lost satellite but all attempts to do so have been so far unsuccessful.

DSLWP-A1 and DSLWP-A2 are two identical micro-satellites manufactured by the Harbin Institute of Technology, weighing approximately 45 kilograms each. They are designed to conduct ultra-long-wave astronomical observations of the sky at frequencies between one megahertz and 30 megahertz from a lunar orbit at an altitude of 200 by 9,000 kilometres. This is at a distance where interference from Earth-based HF signals will be minimised.

Let’s hope for a happy outcome for this ground-breaking mission.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.