A CASTLEDERG amateur radio enthusiast has become the unlikely hero of a double aeroplane rescue, all from the comfort of his own home.
Benny Young (29) was turning the dial on his FT 2000 ham radio on the night of Monday October 29, the same time that Hurricane Sandy began its lashing of the American eastern seaboard, when he heard, “…mayday mayday mayday…”
Immediately Benny started broadcasting on that frequency.
Details are still emerging this week but it turns out, a transatlantic flight from Dublin bound for Boston was 180 miles from destination when disaster struck. Because of the storm, Boston’s Logan International Airport was having trouble with electricity supply and the Instrument Landing System – which guides pilots to land their planes – wasn’t functioning properly.
Subsequently, Air Traffic Control couldn’t hear the mayday call and the pilot couldn’t hear any broadcast from ground control.
Enter the Derg man.
“I responded to the plane, gave my call sign, MI3 JQD and asked them what was wrong,” Benny explained. “It was the night that the hurricane was giving Boston the holly, as they say, and the flight couldn’t hear anything on the ground.
“They must have thought they were going to be able to land before the weather turned. Then the storm arrived and they didn’t think they were going to reach Boston at all.”
According to Benny, during a crisis situation when phone networks are down and electricity supplies are unreliable, an emergency network of US amateur radio operators swings into action.
Knowing this, the Derg man tuned into the American emergency frequency and was able to contact ‘Bob’, an amateur radio operator who in turn contacted Logan International.
By relaying messages from the flight to Bob and then to Air Traffic Control – and vice versa – Benny was able to guide the plane to safety, re-routing to a miraculous landing at an airport in Buffalo.
Benny continued, “There were times the airport could hear the plane and there were times they couldn’t. I tried to help as much as I could, relaying messages from the plane to the ground and then from the ground to the plane. I kept writing it all down as well, heading, altitude, speed, wind speed – and then I passed this on.
“I logged everything in my logbook as I went along. It worked out all right in the end,” he added humbly.
Amazingly, lightning struck twice on the same night and when it emerged that a second flight was in trouble, an American Airlines from Heathrow to Boston, Benny stepped up to the plate once again.
“I did the same thing and this time the plane was re-routed to JFK,” the local member of Strabane Amateur Radio Society remarked.
“It was one of those freak incidents.
“Nothing like this has ever happened to me before.
“It was some rush too but I tried to keep calm and I kept writing the altitude and heading and all the rest down.
“I had just been turning the dial on the radio and this was what I landed in.”
A fork-lift driver for LW Surphlis & Son, Benny admits he potentially saved lives that day – and he said he’d do it again.
“I didn’t mind doing it and if I heard it again I’d be back in, flat to the tin. It was some buzz.”
Commending Benny on his quick thinking and calm head, Terry Whyte from Strabane Amateur Radio Society – of which Benny is a member – said the Castlederg man should be proud of himself.
“Certain stations are set aside on these bands and Benny was at the right frequency at the right time,” the club secretary remarked.
“He recorded everything in his log but we still gave him a good grilling at the last club meeting – in fact everyone else is jealous. This kind of thing is an amateur radio man’s dream.”