Ham radio repeater connects lost hiker with help

FROM: The Laconia Daily Sun

BELMONT — Off trail, after sundown, as the temperature and snowflakes are falling, and with a dead cellphone, it seemed that all factors were against a local man in the woods Sunday evening. Yet he was safely home by the end of his ordeal, and was able to communicate with his wife and emergency services via his amateur radio skills.

Edward Lawson, 79, set out late Sunday afternoon to take a walk with his dog, an Alaskan malamute named Molly. They headed to a section of woods south of Leavitt Road, an area they were both familiar with, with the plan to do a short hike and then head home.

“I did not take my daypack,” Lawson said. Had it been a longer hike, he said he would bring a pack containing extra clothing, a flashlight, orienteering tools, and other equipment in case of unforeseen circumstances. But this was just going to be a short walk in the woods, so he left the pack behind.

The plan changed, though, when they got into the woods. Molly and Ed were feeling energetic, so they departed from their intended trail to head off a side path. Ed knew this trail ended with a need to bushwhack in order to meet up with a snowmobile trail, but what he didn’t know was that the area had been logged recently, and the area he had to bushwhack through now looked different.

When he wasn’t able to connect with the snowmobile trail, he realized that his departure from his plan would mean a much longer time in the woods than originally intended. He pulled out his cellphone to notify his wife, and saw that the battery was completely drained. However, he had one more piece of equipment: a small, handheld radio.

Lawson, a ham radio hobbyist, knew that the radio would be able to connect with a repeater set up on top of Gunstock Mountain, which would broadcast the signal across a network of other repeaters throughout the state. His message, asking for someone to contact his wife, was immediately answered by Bill Barber, a ham radio operator in Hudson. Barber also looped in Rick Zach, another ham radio hobbyist, who lives in Gilford and is familiar with hiking trails in the region.

When Lawson’s wife heard that her husband was in the woods after dark on a December evening, she called 911.

“They started a search using both police and fire apparatus,” said Zach, who was impressed by the industrious solution emergency responders employed. They positioned emergency vehicles in strategic areas around where they thought Lawson might be, and they sounded each vehicle’s siren, one at a time, at timed intervals. Then they radioed to Lawson to see if he heard any of them, and if so, at what time. Lawson didn’t, but even that information was helpful, Zach said

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60940cookie-checkHam radio repeater connects lost hiker with help