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SV Fingolfin

Multiple Emergencies - Jun 25-27, 2004

The following is a example of just how effective ham radio can be during times of emergencies. The incident was handled by amateurs in the US, French Polynesia and Australia, sometimes alone and sometimes in concert with each other. The cooperation and liaison of the two maritime nets involved was excellent. However, the dedication of the operators to marine safety and assistance to others was outstanding. Without the dedication to see the rescue through to the end, this incident could have ended in a more tragic way.

All stations mentioned below are commended for their truly exemplary work. They stayed with the ship for hours at a time over several days, made themselves available for radio schedules despite their personal lives, made long distance telephone calls at their own expense and demonstrated the true spirit of amateur radio

And, to the hundreds of other stations that were monitoring the rescue, a very big thank-you to you for keeping the frequencies clear. Many times in this kind of situation, well-meaning stations transmit on the frequency and important traffic is missed. On behalf of the Maritime Mobile Service Network and the Pacific Seafarers Net, thank-you for your radio discipline and understanding. It made a big difference!

To make this more of a challenge, the incident occurred during the ARRL 2004 Field Day Contest. Although contesting is part of the hobby, emergencies are not a scheduled event and there is work that needs to be done to restructure contests and where they operate.

The United States Coast Guard and the French Navy have expressed their sincere thanks and appreciation to all of the stations involved in this rescue.

On Friday June 25, 2004, at approximately 03:40z, amateur station VK4CEJ (John in Queensland, Australia) came onto the Pacific Seafarers Net (14.313 MHz.) and reported that he had emergency traffic from the Sailing Vessel (SV) Fingolfin. The people on Fingolfin were not amateur radio operators. SV Fingolfin was described as a 47 foot ketch.

SV Fingolfin was in the Pacific Ocean, approximately 680nm north of Nuka Hiva, near position 02º 23'N x 138º 00'W. There were two people onboard, John and Kelly Hallows. Kelly reported that John had medical condition and he required pain medication. Enough medication had been brought aboard for the trip from Mexico to the Marquesas but, due to light winds, the trip was taking longer than planned and the medication had run out. John was experiencing debilitating pain in his head and was not able to assist with the ships routine.

It was learned that SV Fingolfin had approximately 50 gallons of diesel fuel. The winds were very light and sailing was not an option.

Arrangements were made through K5SIV (Bob in Austin, TX), the USCG - District 14 (Honolulu, HI) and the owner of a nearby Greek container ship, The Irene Logos, to meet the Fingolfin and transfer some medication. However, during this transfer, Fingolfin was badly damaged after being struck by the larger ship and Kelly was injured. It was later learned that the medication that had been transferred was the wrong kind!

On June 25, 2004 at approximately 19:30z, W6KH in San Diego, CA., came onto the Maritime Mobile Service Network (MMSN) on 14.300 MHz., saying that he was in contact with VE0WND (Steven on SV Wind Runner) on 18.123.6 MHz. At this time Wind Runner was in contact with the Fingolfin and they were requesting assistance. SV Fingolfin was now at an approximate position of 02º 00'N x 139º 00'W. All stations had come to 14.300 MHz but there no propagation into the Pacific on this frequency. W6KH was instructed to contact USCG San Diego with all of the information and he was given the telephone number. All stations involved then returned to 18 MHz to continue the incident.

On June 25, 2004 at approximately 23:00z, propagation was now favourable and the MMSN began to handle the emergency traffic. N6JRD/MM (John on his boat in the Pacific) relayed the information from the SV Fingolfin to KA6LSL (Bob in Yuma, AZ). This information was then relayed to K5SIV who was in contact with USCG - District 14 in Honolulu, HI.  Their position was now approximately 01º 50.0N x 139º 00.0W. VK4CEJ also copied the Fingolfin and contacted John and Kelly's family in Australia. USCG District 14 had contacted the French Navy, in French Polynesia, and assets were being prepared.

At this time Fingolfin reported that John was in extreme pain and unable to assist with the vessel. It was also learned that Kelly was exhausted and unable to continue.  Both were dehydrated.  Kelly was not able to keep any water down and this had been going on for the past 3 days. Kelly was also injured during the collision earlier and unable to put any weight on one of her legs. The seas were rolling but the weather good but with little wind.

An hourly schedule was arranged with Fingolfin on 14.300 MHz. All stations remained on frequency with the Fingolfin after the MMSN closed at 02:00z

On June 26, 2004 at 02:25, SV Fingolfin advises they are at 01º 53'N x 139º 38'W, steering 327 magnetic and motoring at 4 knots.

At 03:19z, SV Fingolfin advised they changed course to 200 magnetic.

At approximately 03:35z, K5SIV patched Dr. Jim Hirschman K4TCV, in Miami, FL, to the Fingolfin and a medical assessment of their condition was made. It was determined that Kelly most probably had a broken leg and/or pelvis and needed to be restrained to relieve the pain from the ships motion. There was little that could be done for John and it was then discovered that he had been without medication for the last 72 hours. Due to the dehydration of both onboard, evacuation to a hospital was imperative.

At 05:42z, the French Navy Patrol Vessel "La Tapageuse" came to 14.300 MHz and advised that they were on their way to the Fingolfin's last known position from the Marquesas. SV Fingolfin advised that their current position was now 01º 43'N x 139º 43'W, now steering 190 magnetic. Tapageuse estimated approximately 30 hours before they would be on scene. A series of questions & answers to/from the Fingolfin were relayed by VK4CEJ and K5SIV to the Tapageuse. The Tapageuse advised they would attempt contact at 09:00z with an update. However, the hourly schedule was maintained by VK4CEJ, K5SIV and N6HGG (Bob in Humbolt Bay, CA.).

Because of the impending ARRL Field Day contest, an alternate frequency of 14.355 MHz at 00:00z was arranged with the Fingolfin. Although this frequency is outside the amateur band, it is permitted by international law during times of emergencies. Also, marine frequencies 12.353 and 12.359 MHz. were alternates at 18:30z. La Tapageuse was advised of this at 09:00z.

At 06:57z, SV Fingolfin contacted on 14.300 MHz. and advised that they were beginning to take on water. They had pumps operating but the cause of the leak was not known.

At 18:43z, Position 01º 03N x 139º 58W - KE6SD (Gary on SV Amidon Light in Suwarrow Atoll) is in contact with SV Fingolfin. John reports they are doing badly. Kelly advises that they are being "slapped around" a lot. She also fears that the mast may come down, the spreaders have failed, they have no sails and are wallowing in the sea. Kelly reports the wind is less than 10 knots out of the east and that they are drifting slowly to the west. They are able to keep up with the water coming into the boat. Kelly reports that John cannot keep water down. She is slightly mobile but in great pain.  The Tapageuse was on frequency and KE6SD acts as a relay between them. Kelly confirms they do have a life raft.

An hourly radio schedule maintained on 12.353 MHz.

On June 27, 2004 at 01:29z, SV Fingolfin in contact with Tapageuse and discussing medical facilities onboard Tapageuse and status. Fingolfin advises that one mast has come down.

At 06:25z, Position 00º 56'N x 140º 21'W. N6HGG hears and answers a MAYDAY call from SV Fingolfin on 14.355 MHz. John advises that the broken mast and the antenna may soon go overboard, ending radio contact. He also advises that the mast has struck the life raft and that it is now useless. Other stations on frequency are KE6SD, K5SIV and VK4CEJ. Fingolfin advised to stay on this frequency, not matter what happens.

At 07:00, contact was made with Tapageuse on 12.353 MHz and they came to 14.355 MHz. Relaying handled by KE6SD and VK4CEJ. Fingolfin advised by Tapageuse to turn off their EPIRB and to turn it back on at 14:00z, in anticipation of a 15:00z rendezvous. This would assist in pinpointing their position. Fingolfin also advised to monitor VHF channel 16 and 14.355 MHz. and no more frequency changes. It is not known whether the VHF radio works or has an antenna since the dismasting.

At 08:01z, SV Fingolfin made contact with KE6SD and N6JRD. They sounded increasingly stressed, demoralized and desperate about the situation. John and Gary spoke about similar experiences that they had at sea and gave them a pep-talk. They did a fantastic job in lifting John and Kelly's spirits and getting them through the crisis. VE0WND and KE6SD maintained a  radio schedule with Fingolfin as North American stations lost propagation shortly after this time.

At 09:00z, VK4CEJ contacted SV Fingolfin. Signals were poor but it is learned that the other mast had also fallen.

At 15:30z, advised by Tapageuse that they are at SV Fingolfin and have taken John and Kelly aboard. Fingolfin is badly damaged and set adrift at 00º 55'N x 140º 19'W. Both French Navy and USCG will regularly broadcast Fingolfin's last position to maritime interests. Tapageuse advises they are approximately 34 hours to Nuka Hiva.

On June 29, 2004 at 03:30z, K5SIV received an email confirming that John and Kelly have been admitted to hospital in Nuka Hiva. No further information.

On July 2, 2004, K5SIV spoke with Tahiti Rescue Co-Ordination Center. He was told that both John and Kelly are out of the hospital. Kelly's injuries are still not known.

Here are the comments of the Commander of the 14th District - USCG to Bob K5SIV