Radio Amateurs Aid in Pacific Maritime Rescue
NEWINGTON, CT, Aug 4,
2005--Mayday, Mayday, Mayday! This is the sailboat Enamorado.
Mayday, Mayday! That's what Wisconsin radio amateurs Ed Toal, N9MW, and
Ralph Henes, W9CAR, heard during a casual Sunday morning net July 24 on 14.238
MHz that also involved Dick Mannheimer, K6LAE, in Los Angeles. Toal and Henes
were able to contact the operator, Ken Saijo, KC6ORF--a California retiree--who
confirmed the 35-foot sailing vessel was in trouble and needed help.
"All social chatter immediately stopped, and we declared an emergency in
progress on frequency," Henes said. Then, while Toal gathered information from
the operator aboard the Enamorado, Mannheimer and Henes both called the
US Coast Guard to relay the boat's situation and position, which turned out to
be in Mexican waters.
"The US Coast Guard relayed our information to the Mexican Navy, and then it
seemed like a long time passed and nothing seemed to be happening," Henes
recounted. Henes and Toal were able to copy KC6ORF well, although Mannheimer
could not, and they maintained contact with the disabled boat.
The Wisconsin hams learned that that Saijo was accompanying the boat's
skipper, Ken Scheibe, on a trip from California to Costa Rica when they ran into
a storm. As a result, the vessel lost its engine and steering, both men had
suffered injuries and Scheibe was reported in severe pain. Before putting out
distress calls on 20 meters, Saijo had tried without success to raise help via
the vessel's VHF marine radio.
"It appears our gang had good signals down there, and [that] attracted them
to our net," Mannheimer said . He noted that Art Rowe, K7HA, in Washington, and
Tom Miller, K4IC, in Arlington, Virginia, initially kept the frequency clear.
They were subsequently joined by a host of other stations in the US and Canada,
some of whom were able to copy KC6ORF and help relay as needed.
Toal had to leave after a couple of hours, but Henes and Mannheimer remained
on frequency, and Henes said he kept the two sailors talking and updating their
position. About three hours into the incident, Henes again called the US Coast
Guard to see if it had heard back from the Mexican Navy. "The answer was no," he
said. So he called the Mexican Navy himself and, after what he described as "a
few tense language-barrier moments," he was connected with someone who spoke
English and Spanish and told that a rescue boat and helicopter were on the way.
"I managed to persuade the office person to contact the naval vessel and
please ask them to come up on our ham radio frequency," Henes said. "It worked!
Within minutes, they were on the frequency calling the stranded boat."
Unfortunately, neither Saijo nor Scheibe spoke Spanish fluently enough to
understand the communicator on the Mexican Navy vessel.
Enter Jorge Lira, XE1JP, who volunteered to serve as translator. He was able
to relay the foundering sailboat's coordinates to Mexican authorities. "He saved
the day," said Henes, who reports he was able to hear the rescue helicopter in
the background on Saijo's transmission. Saijo and Scheibe were plucked to safety
from the distressed vessel, which the Mexican Navy towed to safety.
Henes said he later received an e-mail from Scheibe thanking him and the
other radio amateurs for helping. He reports neither was seriously injured. "I
really slept like a log Sunday night, knowing both men were safe," Henes said.
He also expressed gratitude for all who had assisted.
Toal said later, "To me, we were just paying our dues for the right to be
A TV station and a newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin, were among the news media
reporting the incident and Amateur Radio's role in coming to the rescue.
In a somewhat ironic postscript to the story: Henes heard from Scheibe again
a few days after the incident. The skipper e-mailed that after he and Saijo got
stranded again after leaving Mexico. "We got about 12 hours out and the engine
went again," Scheibe said. "No wind, and we basically drifted for two days."
Fortunately, a small Navy patrol boat spotted the Enamorado and again
came to the rescue. "This trip has been an experience," Scheibe told Henes.
"I've been a captain for 25+ years and never called a Mayday or needed a tow,
but what a story if I ever have grandkids."