Recently our world was rocked with the news that Annie Schmidt, daughter of Jon Schmidt of The Piano Guy’s, had gone missing while hiking in the back country of Oregon State. Immediately Jaime and myself, along with many others, began praying for her safe return. Days turned into weeks as the search for Annie continued, which lead to my wondering of what may have happened to her. Tragically the news came in weeks later, that Annie had fallen from a cliff and sadly perished. Her body was found at the base of the cliff weeks later by Search and Rescue teams, led by cadaver dogs. We all were praying for her safe return, and were heartbroken to learn of her fate.
A few years ago, Geraldine Largay went missing while hiking the Appalachian Trail in the great state of Maine in 2013. Searches were performed without success, and she was presumed dead, and the search halted. Unknown to would-be rescuers she survived for nearly one month, and weeks after the search was halted, in the back country of Maine, along the Appalachian Trail. She was left to die alone and afraid, waiting for help that never came. She tried to send multiple text messages to her husband requesting help from police. It would not be until the year 2015 that her remains would be found by a forester, two years too late.
What is the point of this article you may wonder? Well, when I heard of Annie Schmidt’s case where she was missing, and ultimately found deceased, I wondered what if she was like Geraldine Largray. Because I first poised the question when I heard about Geraldine’s case and her disappearance. What if they were so far back in the woods, conventional cellular telephone reception was not available. How would someone call for help?
Amateur Radio is how someone could call for help.
See, Amateur Radio is far more reliable than typical cellular telephones. Amateur radio operators, “Hams” as coined by our ranks, often build repeaters, similar to cell towers, that cover areas in remote mountainous regions where cell phones do not work. The only difference is our radios have far more power than cell phones, and they are far more reliable. If someone is stranded and in need of help, where cell phones fail, a simple 5 watt radio with Amateur Radio Repeaters programmed into the memories, may be the difference between life and death.
See I have a view from both sides of the coin, as a public servant, and as an amateur radio operator who enjoys his time spent in the mountains and back countries of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Cherokee National Forest, and everywhere in between.
While I am in the back country I employ the use of the Yaesu FT1DR, a handheld radio that is equipped with an internal GPS capable of use on APRS (Automatic Packet Reporting System) and transmits my location on 145.390 MHz, which is received by digital repeaters, and the information can be located at www.APRS.fi by searching the call sign of the amateur radio operator, and the SSID if one is used. For example my call sign and SSID is N2AL-7. If something should happen to me I can transmit messages via text on APRS to other stations, requesting help, and communicating back and forth with other stations. Most importantly APRS.fi can be used to find station locations when they have their GPS enabled.
I can also use my handheld radio to transmit on amateur radio FM repeaters which are programmed into the radio, and request help that way. I use a program called RT Systems for my radio, and I can automatically program all repeaters within a 100 mile radius of where I select, into the memory banks. This way I have all the repeaters available for use, and can signal for help if needed.
This can mean the difference between life everlasting, and death all alone. It would not have saved Annie Schmidt unfortunately, but it may have saved Geraldine Largray. The cost for amateur radio use is not expensive at all. My radio, with the software, and an extra battery, and an MFJ 12.5 inch dual band VHF/UHF antenna cost me close to $300.00 a few years ago. Add some solar panel chargers for the batteries, and you can take the radio with you, charge it on the go, and have the capability to signal for help if needed. You are not constrained to finding a wall power outlet to charge the radio with. You can use the solar panels and let them do it for you, while you hike.
The knowledge required for amateur radio operations, and testing to obtain a license, is not complicated at all. It actually is quite easy. I studied for three days, mostly consisting of watching The Ham Whisperer on YouTube, where he went over all the questions, then the answers, for the test banks. I received my Technician Class license a week later and I was on the air.
The Technician Class license, next the General Class, and finally the Extra Class license, are not difficult to obtain. But for the purpose of VHF & UHF FM communications while portable and hiking, or driving, about the back country or the city, all that is needed is the Technician Class license.
To conclude, Amateur Radio has the ability to save lives, and they save lives far more than someone might think. Where I live in East Tennessee is close to The Dragon, The Cherohala Skyway, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cherokee Forest, and other places that are prone to cell phone coverage lapses. Often when trouble occurs in these hard to reach places, Amateur Radio operators use their radios to summon help. It happens quite frequently, and as of this article, I know of two cases this week alone in East Tennessee. If we could get more people who spend their time outdoors in remote regions to use Amateur Radio’s, then we could save more lives when disaster happens.
Now as a side note I DO NOT recommend using Amateur Radio as the sole method of signaling for help. A lot of professional companies have developed ways of requesting assistance during an emergency.
One such device is a PLB, also know as a Personal Locator Beacon, which is very similar to an Emergency Position-Indicating Radio-beacon Station (EPIRB) used on marine vessels across the world. These devices are relatively inexpensive, although you cannot put a price on your life and safety. The basic concept is relatively simple -It can be automatically activated when certain conditions are met, or manually activated when emergency assistance is required. The devices are battery-powered and some work via GPS and radio beacon. More information on these devices can be found at the links below.
Please join me in continuing to keep the families of both Annie Schmidt, and Geraldine Largay, in our thoughts and prayers. These are two tragic cases where two families lost loved ones. God bless them, and God bless us all.