HAMNET Report 26th November 2023

A tunnel being excavated though a mountain in Uttarakhand, India partly collapsed some two weeks ago, trapping 41 workers behind some 50 metres of rock. Rescue efforts have been underway to reach the men, and supplementary oxygen, water, and simple meals have been conveyed to them via pipelines. A flexible endoscopic camera has been passed through the pipeline too, and the men have been seen and assessed by medical teams, as the work continues to burrow through the collapsed rock and earth to reach them.

As of Thursday, drilling through the fallen rock was still continuing, with hitches due to problems with machinery, including damage to the drill when it struck an iron girder which was in the rubble needing removal. Repairs to the drill were needed, while the girder was cut away to allow further drilling to continue.

News yesterday afternoon is that the drilling machine, known as an augur, broke while being extracted after striking the iron beam, so the last 15 metres or so of earth needing to be removed to rescue the workers will have to be removed by hand. This will delay their rescue even longer.

The NSRI has reported that a catamaran, with two men aboard issued a distress call on Tuesday the 21st, after they suffered engine and rudder failure, while en route to Durban from Mozambique.

A Transnet National Ports Authority helicopter, during a routine flight, had intercepted a VHF marine radio distress call from the yacht skipper reporting to be adrift at sea caught in strong South Westerly winds with motor mechanical failure, limited battery power and rudder failure. The helicopter crew then raised the alarm.

Initially unsure of the safety of the 2 crewmen the NSRI Richards Bay rescue craft Ocean Guardian was swiftly launched. On reaching the general area that they had reported to be in, and following a brief search, the NSRI located the yacht 20 nautical miles from the Port of Richards Bay and 18 nautical miles off-shore of Durnford Point lighthouse.

Communications were assisted by Telkom Maritime Radio Services, NSRI Richards Bay duty controllers and the TNPA Richards Bay Port Control.

The NSRI crew rigged a towline and the sailing Catamaran was towed safely to the Port of Richards Bay where their rescue craft was drafted alongside and they were moored safely at a berth at Tuzi Gazi small craft harbour, where they will render repairs before continuing on their voyage.

Sunmedia from New Zealand issued a report on Friday the 24th, noting that around 40 people from Police, Amateur Radio Emergency Communications (AREC) and Land Search and Rescue were put to the test in the exercise last weekend.

The Operation Extra scenario revolved around three anglers who became separated and lost in the Tukituki River area in the Ruahine Ranges after a day’s fishing. The group had split up, creating two separate search operations.

One operation involved a dementia sufferer (aka “Jon the dummy”) wearing a Wandersearch tracker who was located ‘deceased’ in thick blackberry bushes after succumbing to hypothermia.

A second search was launched for the other two anglers who had walked upriver before getting caught in heavy rain and rising river levels.

After a night in the bush for both searchers and the ‘lost’ fishermen, the pair was found early on Sunday morning.

The Incident Management Team (IMT) was based at the Hawke’s Bay Coastguard HQ in Napier and run by a mix of Police and LandSAR staff.

Senior Constable Andy Walker, who put in months of planning for the exercise, says for some Police staff it was their first exposure to being part of the planning, operational and logistical decision making associated with a search.

He says as with all searches communications played a huge role in its success.

“AREC did a fantastic job keeping communication channels to all teams, including having teams carry the 25kg repeaters to the top of the ranges to provide coverage into the headwaters of the Tukituki,” says Andy.

He says there was a slight hiccup when overnight winds snapped an aerial, necessitating some hasty field repairs.

Andy purposely piled on the pressure on the Incident Controllers, giving them several interjections to contend with.

“These included calls from media wanting information on the search; a large group of family members launching their own search operation; a visit from Inspector Marty James questioning staffing; TOIL, costs and budgets; plus the family liaison aspects due to ‘Jon’ being from Australia and being located deceased”, he noted.

Michael ZS1MJT, the Western Cape’s Regional Director, has written a report about an Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) which was activated suddenly on the 17th November.

He says that a request was sent out to HAMNET members to assist with the tracking. Some members started trying to get a direction to the beacon from their homes, but nothing was heard across the Peninsula.

A member went to the top of Tygerberg hill to try to get a direction of the signal from a higher vantage point, but to no avail. Nothing was heard.

Driving around the area where the GPS points were plotted, was also proving a challenge as the noise levels in the area were causing interference on radio frequencies (RFI).

Following some of the GPS coordinates received from Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre (ARCC), our members travelled from Tygerberg to Goodwood, Cape Town International airport, Montague Gardens, and back to Tygerberg Hill.

As nothing was heard, a call was made to stand down that evening and resume the following day.

Through the night, all locations were recorded and plotted on Google Earth. From there, using triangulation of most locations, members were deployed on Saturday to hunt for the elusive signals.

At 11h26, a clear signal was heard, and it was possible to track down the ELT to a business in Elsies River. On closer investigation, those premises proved not to be harbouring the elusive beacon, so the neighboring business was contacted. The owner made arrangements to open up later in the day and finally, at 17h42 on Saturday 18 November, the unit was located and switched off.

It appears that the ELT had been incorrectly disposed of at a dump site, and ended up at an Ewaste facility. The item was in a big crate with other electronic waste, and appears to have been rattled around, unintentionally turning it on. The signals were very scattered due to the nature of the building, the roof, and the material on top of and around it.

Thanks are due to Colin (ZS1RS) and Doug (ZS1DUG) who actively looked for it on Saturday 18 November, Shawn (ZS1LED) who assisted on Friday the 17th and Sybrand (ZS1L), who mapped the locations on both days.

Thank you, Michael, for managing the search while away for the weekend, and for the report.

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