HAMNET Report 20th August 2023

Hawaii’s Maui Island continues to be in the news. The death toll due to the fires had reached at least 110 by Thursday, and people are still unaccounted for so the numbers may rise.

The ARRL Letter for the 17th says that ARRL members, in the Hawaii Amateur Radio Emergency Service®, (Hawaii ARES®), continue to respond following on the deadly wildfires on the island.

The radio amateurs are coordinating with state and local officials during the response and recovery effort. On August 15, an HF SHARES gateway, and an amateur VHF VARA FM gateway were brought back online, after having been damaged. Local hams continue to update lists of frequencies and repeaters that can be used in the response.

ARRL Headquarters staff has been in daily contact with member-volunteers on the island. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Hawaii and especially the island of Maui,” said ARRL Director of Emergency Management Josh Johnston, KE5MHV. “ARRL was in initial contact with Section Manager [of the ARRL Pacific Section] Joe Speroni, AH0A, on Wednesday, August 9, and we have had daily briefs with him. This is an exceedingly challenging time for Hawaii, and we will be available as needed.” ARRL has offered equipment through ARRL Ham Aid, a program established in 2005 and funded by donations, Ham Aid makes emergency communications equipment available to amateur radio organizations during disasters.

Johnston emphasized that most amateur radio communications, including relayed messages are being handled on the existing repeater system in the state. On shortwave, HF stations across Hawaii are operating nets on 7.088 MHz.

On August 8, wildfires fuelled by strong winds began burning in Maui, and by the next day, much of Lahaina had been destroyed. As of press time, 110 people had been killed in the blaze and 2,200 structures had been destroyed; 86% of those structures were residential, according to Hawaii Governor Josh Green.

Meanwhile, Japan is suffering a second Tropical Cyclone, this one called LAN, not very strong, but nevertheless affecting 9 prefectures in central Honshu Island, where 64 people have been injured, and up to 305000 properties affected by power outages. The storm was forecast to move north-westward over the northern Sea of Japan, and to dissipate by Friday, leaving a trail of further rainfall over the whole of Honshu Island, and most of Hokkaido Island.

And Tropical Cyclone HILARY is in the eastern Pacific, and threatening the Pacific coast of Mexico, with winds of up to 240km/h. A population of about 2 million people in Mexico is threatened by winds of at least 120km/h. Let’s hope the damage done remains relatively mild.

GDACS also reported two strong earthquakes in Colombia on Thursday, the first a magnitude 6.3 shock at a depth of about 10km, subjecting 320000 people to severe shaking at 17h04 UTC, and a second, of magnitude 5.7, at a depth of about 8km, at 17h17 UTC, and affecting about 450000 people within a dangerous circumference.

HAMNET in the Western Cape held an impromptu foxhunt exercise on Sunday the 6th of August. With one hour’s forewarning, we were asked to mobilize and find a beacon carried by a “secret agent” who had been injured by the bad guys, and was hiding and out of communication. We were not allowed to use repeaters to find the beacon, or any social media, because the so-called bad guys were monitoring all of those, and also trying to find our secret agent. So we had 2m simplex and that was all.

His beacon started transmitting in short bursts on 144.900MHz at 13h30 CAT, and we had about 90 minutes to find him before his batteries caved in. Four HAMNET operators rose to the challenge, and allowed bearings on which they heard the beacon, to be used intelligently to find its location.

We had bearings from Gordon’s Bay, Stellenbosch, Tokai and Monte Vista, which seemed to suggest a location somewhere on the face of Table Mountain, and within 60 minutes, we had pinpointed the signal to be coming from Rhodes Memorial, where our agent was found and rescued.

Thanks to ZS1JFK, ZS1BR, ZS1L and yours truly for assisting in the search, and to Michael ZS1MJT for organizing the beacon.

Incidentally, may I remind those of you who use SARTrack to manage your APRS station, to update your software to the very necessary latest version, as advertised by SARTrack’s developer, Bart Kindt. You should have received his email on Monday the 15th.

Here’s an alarming and distressing story about an aircraft en route to Santiago from Florida, which had to divert to Panama City’s Tocumen International Airport, because the pilot collapsed in the bathroom of the plane 3 hours after take-off, and was declared dead on arrival at Panama City.

The Flight took thirty minutes to divert to Panama City’s Tocumen International Airport where the first responders declared Captain Ivan Andaur dead when the plane landed, as per an Independent report. 

“LATAM Airlines Group reports that flight LA505 yesterday, which was on the Miami-Santiago route, had to land at the Tocumen International Airport in Panama City due to a medical emergency for one of the three members of the command crew. When the plane landed, emergency services provided life-saving help, but the pilot sadly passed away,” the airline said in a statement, as per the Independent report. 

“We are deeply moved by what has happened, and we extend our sincere condolences to the family of our employee. We are deeply grateful for his 25-year career and his valuable contribution, which was always distinguished by his dedication, and professionalism. During the flight, all the necessary safety protocols were carried out to safeguard the life of the affected pilot,” it added. 

After the incident, the flight resumed its journey from Panama City on Tuesday to Chile. 

In March this year, one of the pilots on board a Southwest Airlines flight fell ill and the plane had to return to Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas after departing for Columbus in Ohio. 

An off-duty pilot from another airline was on board the flight as a passenger and helped with radio communications as the flight returned to Nevada City, the report added. 

Thank goodness airlines have the good sense to have 2 competent fliers aboard all aircraft.

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