Local News

Ham Radio Operators Link Tsunami Survivors With Family

Posted January 7, 2005 7:19 a.m. EST

— In times of disaster, ham radios are frequent lifelines.

When the tsunami hit south Asia, it wiped out almost all communication with the outside world, leaving thousands of American families in the dark about their loved ones' fate.

In the aftermath, ham radios have aided in relief work and reunited families.

"Sometimes ham radio operators are all you have when everything else goes down," operator Walt Edmundson said.

John and Lorraine Newton of Wake Forest used the old-fashioned form of wireless communication to connect with their relatives.

John Newton's mother and step father live on their boat and travel the world. Rodney and Rebecca Nowlin were anchored outside Phuket, Thailand when the tsunami hit.

"Your heart stays in your throat. It was a long, long day," John Newton said.

That long day ended when the Newton's received an e-mail from a ham radio operator in South Asia saying John's parents were OK.

"He probably checked into a particular net everyday to let people know where he was at," operator Roger Allen said.

With no phones and no computers, a ham radio operator was the bearer of good news for the Newtons.

"They noticed that the beach disappeared. The muddy wave came rushing back toward them while they were out there. When a second wave hit them coming back from the beach with debris, beach chairs and things like that, they pulled up anchor and headed out to sea to deeper water," Newton said.

The operators will come in handy in the future as Newton's parents continue to navigate the oceans of the world.

"They're amazing, they really are," Newton said. "I know I can rely on them during a disaster to get a hold of my parents."

Just days before, the Nowlins were anchored at a Marina in Malaysia that was destroyed by the tsunami.

In the days after the disaster, they went ashore to help victims.