Author Topic: Dxpedition disaster  (Read 1807 times)


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Dxpedition disaster
« on: April 03, 2010, 05:50:19 PM »
If you have not followed the recent VY0V dxpedition saga, it's worth the read.  There were many mistakes made with this dxpedition, some of which could have been fatal.  One thing I kept reading and laughing about was all the blame that Cezar was throwing around, he never took responsibly for his own actions or inaction's.  It seems as though he failed to plan and that became his plan to fail.

The story is a great "you're doing it wrong" dxpedition story as well as a "you're doing it wrong" survival story.

You can find the story here:

Or see the full thing below:

UPDATE – Apr 2, 16 UTC:  I’m still in Ft. Severn, but I’m leaving shortly. We have word from the land team that they will probably reach the village in 4 hours or so. I received numerous messages and while I will reply them later, I would like to publicly thank all of you who send me words of appreciation and concern. The story of VY0V will be written but it will take a while, I have so many others things to get back to. However, I feel that it is necessary to clarify a few things right away.

I worked on the possibility of activating East Pen Is. for quite some time, but discussions and planning of VY0V took several months. I want to make it very clear that this project would not have taken place and would not have been successful had it not been for the enthusiasm, effort and skills of Tommy Miles – who is also one of the 5 members of the Council of the Cree community of Ft. Severn. I knew that things up north don’t always go as planned, mainly because of the changing weather conditions. Regardless, there is no question that Tommy made some poor decisions on the fly. Tommy never abandoned me on the island on purpose. It turned out this way because his replacement couldn’t make it. The severe changes in the weather conditions over the first 36 hours of the 56 I spent alone on the island were something nobody up here ever lived. Tommy never ‘accounted’ for this in his plan. While I had some matches and spare log sheets to start a fire, it was never that cold to push me doing it, because the northern equipment I had from him kept me warm at night. Wildlife was also not an issue, since I had ammunition and deterrents. Believe it or not, the main problem was the shortage of gas. Not only working the pile-up was the purpose I came for in the first plane in that very barren land, but kept me occupied and sane. When the gas/power ended, and without knowing how hard the weather conditions will hit me further, I decided to send a distress signal while I still had radio power. And if the extraction effort was beyond the means of the local community, then it had to be planned accordingly.

With so many people relaying messages around, it had to be some misunderstanding and misevaluation. Worth noting, the distress data was passed in CW. Until a reliable contact was established via CW, I was dismissed by A LOT of rag-chewing SSB operators, whose callsigns are irrelevant. What amazed me was that they didn’t event took the time to listen to a full message from me to evaluate it, despite the fact that they were copying me perfectly well, but deliberately went back to their chewing. NOW, IT WAS THIS ATTITUDE THAT UPSET AND FRUSTRATED ME THE MOST! I told nobody about this until now, because I had to use the radio power wisely. However, this MUST be made public.

Back on the rescue mission, Tommy totally redeemed himself in the end. However, I could have made a lot more contacts had he respected the original power plan we had. I really hated to be sitting there with a radio and unable to operate it. Even without a mast I put up some wire and managed to make QSOs, some with quite distant stations. I could take and did take everything life threw at me in this trip, but reaching the point when the lack of purpose set in was clearly the lowest moment of this trip.

Got to go, there is a flight waiting for me. 73!

Apr 1, 8 UTC: Here is a BRIEF account of VY0V. Left the village at 5:15 pm on Mar 28 (sunset at 8 pm) with one guide – Tommy, and arrived to East Pen at 2:15 am. It took us 9 hours to travel 120 km. The locals build the tents to resist very high winds, but this requires the use of trees. Since there wasn’t room for them in the sled, had to go back to the tree line and cut them. It took about 3 hours to return to the island and at least another hour to finish the camp. Wind picked up very soon from the E, and increased steadily. The mast was extremely bent and when I was running EU #8 it broke in three sections. While ‘thinking’ what to do with the little variety of things we had with us, I placed the antenna on the tent, with the radials less than a foot from the ground – didn’t have much wood for support. I had no problem to work NA, and ever some stations outside NA, but I knew that it wasn’t doing a decent job. Later in the day cut splinters from a piece of plywood and supported the three sections by tying them up with wire and rope. We did an excellent job, even if the new mast was extremely heavy, so the second day of operation was rewarding. Late morning, Tommy told me that another guide will replace him and is on the way, so he will leave. I wasn’t happy but not that worried, since another guide was supposed to join me in several hours. Not only that Tommy’s departure was against our plan, but wasn’t planed well. The second guide never made it to East Pen, presumably his skidoo died on him and had to return, and so the supplies needed never arrived! After so many trips up north, I knew that polar bears are territorial and curious, but rarely attack humans who mind their business, and virtually never inside the tent. Given also the fact that this was not their season, the bears were the least on my mind. The problem was that it was impossible for me to take the mast down and put it up by myself in order to change the bands. I needed another person. Also, I was only left with little gas for the generator, as new guide was supposed to refuel the camp! As the evening set in, the wind picked up and I was very afraid that the mast will break again, which will be pretty much the end of working outside NA. Consequently, with great effort I brought it down in the wind and fixed it against the wood poles of the tent for increased resistance – also, I could lean it now easily to change the bands. Working the radio kept my thoughts focused on the propagation and the pile-ups, nothing else. Not using the night bands allowed me to sleep more, which helped. Next day though, I imagined that the guide will appear before nightfall but he didn’t. The rain poured intensely, followed by very strong winds, this time from W. As the island is formed of sand banks, I could find it everywhere, including the snow. I had enough of assurances that the guide will soon arrive, never to materialize. Worse, I was told that the rivers and lakes along the word are rapidly thowing, which led to the prospect of being stuck there for a long time! Without supplies, with no scope on the island, and with the prospect of an agonizingly slow search, A little over 36 hours after I remained alone on the island, I decided that a Search & Rescue mission will be required, and launched a distress call. It took the land team of two a total of 26 hours to reach me at 6:30 pm. Meanwhile, my wife pushed and obtained clearance from the Government for an official air mission. However, Tommy must have felt responsible and brought in a friend of him with a plane, who landed on the island at 7pm and extracted me. The ride back to Fort Severn was actually fantastic, just at the sun was setting, as I could see hundreds of small and large rivers thowing.

My guide's unilateral decision to leave me alone on the island cannot earn him good points with me. I needed him not only to keep me safe, but also to help me out. However, I must confess that he was incredibly unlucky. Nobody in Ft. Severn remembers in their lifetime such an amazingly fast passage from winter to spring. In a matter of three days only, everything went from solidly frozed to thow!

At this time, my thoughts are with the land team, as it will take them (Andrew and James) two days to get back to their village!

Big thanks to all hams who spent numerous hours on the bands on Apr 1 to take my messages further, relay feedback, and keep me company: VE7DP, K1BG, W5GAI, VE7XF, W3HQ, N9NS, VE7WEB. I am indebted to many others who worked hard to coordinate a prompt rescue mission, including my wife Lucia, Debbie, Jason, and last - but not least, Tommy. Finally, I would like to thank all of you who thought of me and sent me messages in this eventful day. I will reply to each of them as soon as possible.

VY0V logged just over 2700 QSOs, of which approximately 5% with ASIA, 38% with EU, 55% with NA, the rest with AF/OC/SA.

Mar 28, 20 UTC: Still in the village, everything is very fluid right now [Ken/G3OCA, I know you understand this well]. After a lot of work and serious testing, the true skidoo's problem was not nailed. Tommy has very hardly succeeded to make his brother Timothy accept - against some form of compensation! - to trade his skidoo (which has an air cooling system) with him for a little while. Meanwhile, Jason bailed out - again. Unfortunately, Tommy needs to return back to the village tomorrow, so I needed another person to come along. Polar bear females are around, soon to take their cubs to the sea, Tommy cannot leave me alone out there. After discussions with at least half a dozen people, he finally got Andrew to agree to come tomorrow and replace him. Tommy brought in the new skidoo as I type this. We want to leave but it won't happen before 21 UTC. Sunset is at 24 UTC, so it will be a very long trip in the ... dark, through bushes but also fields of mostly sparce, but sometimes dense fields and woods of mostly amorack trees. I have the coordinates of the island, so we will go by the GPS and ... Tommy's instincts. I have no idea when we'll arrive on East Pen. but if we'll get there I will try to get on the air as soon as possible.

Mar 28, 15 UTC: Had a pretty good night sleep but both Tommy and I are sore. Last night diagnosed the problems with the snowmobile and got parts and work to install them this morning. This time we will leave with two snowmobiles, as Jason, the second guide, will come along. At least one of them must make it to East Pen with the sled! Last night, due to a misunderstanding, a search party (Chris and Donny) went for us, only to find the 'abandonned' sled. Since they didn't have a SAT phone, however, we couldn't communicate with them. They realized that we must have returned to the village and decided to bring the sled back with them, entering the village around midnight local time. We must have almost crossed roads at one point with those guys, and still didn't see them. It will take us now twice longer to get to 'km 44'! We should have everything ready and hit the road after 17 UTC. Expected arrival to East Pen around 24 UTC. Keep your fingers crossed, we need all the luck and more!

Mar 28, 01 UTC: Problems! No operation tonight, we're back in the village. We left Ft. Severn after 1 pm local time (17 UTC) with one snowmobile pulling a 6m long sled with everything, including myself. Temp was -17C, but no wind, so the weather was excellent. As such, we hoped to make it to East Pen in about 6 hours. The first hour went well, we made 23 km (tracks are much better on the outskirts of the village). Shortly after that though, the engine started to overheat. We stopped, checked, tried again, and so on. Over the next 3.5 hours we made another ... 21 km. Using the SAT phone Tommy tried to get help from his brother back home, but it was pretty clear that the thermostat died on us as it won't start the pump to circulate the coolant. In the meantime we managed to boil the coolant to the point that we had to leave the vapors out, and in the process lost most of the water. We didn't have that much anti-freeze for the trip, so the prospect to make it all the way looked pretty bleak. It was so cold by then that the butan lamp wouldn't start, so it was the time to use the wood stove we took with us! We finally made some water, but by then we were 5.5 hours from the startup and had enough of all this. As such, we decided to return to the village for the night. We left everything in the middle of nowhere, 44 km from the village, about 1/3 of the way to the island. We only took with us the cameras and the chargers, nothing else. It took Tommy only 1 hour and 20 min to drive us back, pushing at times up to 60 km/h. I must confess though that we almost lost it a couple of times, and we are so tired, can hardly wait a good night sleep. We'll work to fix the snowmobile tonight and tomorrow morning. I am a little worried to have left the rig in the cold, it is supposed to be -28C tomorrow morning. Well, if it will run after that, I think that ICOM will be delighted with the ad they will get out of it! We will try again tomorrow, keep fingers crossed! For whatever is worth it, there will be no competition from WPX SSB, hihi!

Mar 26, 23 UTC: Will attempt to reach East Pen Is. tomorrow (Mar 27). Hope to be QRV around 0 UTC (Mar 28).

Mar 26, 21 UTC: Arrived well in Ft. Severn, but had a serious scare on the way. Waiting for my plane in Sioux Lookout, at some point I wanted to check with the airline that all my bags were brought in (originally tagged for the final destination). Imagine how I felt when I was told that none of my bags actually made it! A couple of phone calls and 15 min of intense searching later, we located them somewhere outside the terminal! Weather in Ft. Severn is mostly sunny, with blue sky. I was told that the temp in the morning was -29C, but only -12C upon my arrival.

Mar 25: I left home this morning and after a couple of flights I arrived in Thunder Bay, where I will overnight. Photo on top is with Tommy, who is my guide (left). The good thing is that I have all the luggage, which came in good condition. The bad thing is that it's already -14C. I am scheduled to fly north tomorrow morning. Weather report indicates that the current temperature up there is -21C. It is expected to drop overnight to -28C, but with the 15km/h wind and 69% humidity feels like -39C! It was 6C when I left this morning and I have the feeling that I'm going the wrong way, hihi!

*  *  *

For this trip Cezar has retained the services of two local guides. All the camping gear will be loaded on sleds towed by snowmobiles. Under good weather conditions, the travel to the island should take around 10 hours. Radio equipment will be carefully packed to minimize the severe beating it will take during transportation. Since the sled has no struts, the uneven ground surface will make it jump up to 30/40 cm and land hardly. Inside the tent, condensation will have to be eliminated before switching on the rig. Weather conditions are of concern. Outside temperature is expected to be at the time -20C or lower. The team could leave for the island on good weather, but situation can change very rapidly up north. In less than an hour a blizzard could make the travel impossible. Out there they will have to put up the tent and wait for a change in weather before continuing their journey. This is a rather difficult project and although Cezar is fully committed to it, he wants to convey to everyone that it may have to be aborted if safety concerns dictate it.