BLT33.2 Recovery Attempt

A few minutes after touchdown I decided to try a recovery attempt for BLT33.2 . At this time I didn’t even have an exact landing position but I was hoping to pick up the signal when I get closer. Cell phone reception was difficult in Leesville so I had trouble to load Google maps. However I did in deed pick up the signal and position from the balloon directly on my TH-D72.

Guided by the direction feature in the TH-D72 I made my first attempt from the West. I parked my car at the end of a dirt road in some 200 ft from a house and prepared my radios and the ARDF direction finder receiver for a walk for the last 0.5 miles. Suddenly a barking dog and a lady with a shotgun rifle came out of that house and told me not to move. I laid down my ARDF receiver and explained that this was not a weapon and I am searching for a small weather balloon. The lady turned out to be very friendly and informed me that it is rather impossible to pass for 0.5 miles through the rural forest. She suggested to attempt it from the East direction and she even guided me with her car to that side. I left my car (0.4 miles SE from the balloon position) at 7:20 pm local time and followed a heavily overgrown dirt road below a power line to the North. Soon the dirt road completely disappeared and I had to go around huge mood pools and through little creeks still following the power lines. When the direction indicator turned to straight West at 0.2 miles from the balloon I had to turn into the deep forest. I had still light, so it seemed easier than I thought to pass through the shrubs below the ~30ft tall trees and soon my display showed 0.0 miles with varying directions. My ARDF receiver (a DF1FO type that can be seen in his gallery) has a neat display that estimates the distance to the transmitter. This display showed a 5 m distance and I still couldn’t see the forest covered by all the trees. The Pecan likely landed high up in the trees and I had no chance to see the little package. A beeper would certainly be helpful in this case.

Since it quickly started to become dark I gave up searching for the package and decided to go back to the car. Oh damn! From which direction did I come from? Suddenly all shrubs looked the same in the dusk. I didn’t believe that it was getting dark so fast. What is this light on the ground? A sea of million fireflies lit up all around me like blue LEDs inn the dark. The sky was pitch black.

My cell phone rang. Hey, here is Andy (W5ACM). You’re going in the wrong direction. The beacon is right behind you. – I don’t care about the beacon. I’m afraid for my life to get out of here and find the car! – You’re still going to the wrong direction! You need to go East! – I thought I was already going to the East, but I can’t get through the shrubs in the deep forest, so I followed a little creek were it was easier. – I don’t see a creek on the map? What are you talking about? – OK, Give me a few minutes and I’ll send some position beacons while I follow the creek so that I have at least something I can keep my orientation.

While I kept following the creek I got stuck in the thorny thicket. Turn back a few feet and trying to get around the obstacle. I couldn’t even see huge tree trunks, I stumbled, fell down on the ground several times. What the heck! Are there knee deep holes in the ground? I checked out the compass app in my android smartphone. How comes North points always away from me? No matter if I turn myself around my own axis. Oh damn! I never calibrated it before…

OK, time for another APRS position packet. I held up my D72 as high as I could and triggered a manual beacon. I heard a digipeated reply and the beep in my radio confirmed my position via WB5JZP-1. Immediately Andy called back: I like your direction much better now! Keep going in that direction! – Hey, can you tell me in which direction can you see the moon? – It’s South! Err… or maybe West? Let me ask the others… Mumble, mumble…. OK, we believe the moon is South West from you. Always go away from the moon! – Yes, thanks. Fortunately this is what I’ve been doing all the time already… – The power line is directly East from you. Whenever you can get to the East that’s good. – OK, I’ll try to reach the power lines and then call you back.

The pitch black forest made interesting sounds. Sometimes it was like human voices. Help! I called loudly. I wasn’t really expecting to get help, but I wanted to make sure that a hunter out there may not misunderstand me as a stupid deer and fire up a shotgun in my direction…

Finally I reached the power lines. Why doesn’t the D72 send an ID beacon? Oh, battery is depleted! I called Andy: OK, I’ve reached the power lines. Bad news is that my D72 is dead. Do not expect more beacons. I will follow the power lines to the South and hope to find my car. I will call you back if I need further help.

The walking was so much easier below the power lines. Good that the moon was shining and I finally could see where to go. I simply stepped through the mud pools, I didn’t care anymore. This creek is big! Did I come here before? Well I have to jump though I can’t see the other side. OK, all went well. I reached a point where the power line split up in two directions. Did I come from the left or from the right? I remembered going down a slight hill on the dirt road, but was it here or a bit later? I went uphill. Will I find my car here? I was already getting unsure. The dirt road looked somehow unfamiliar. I didn’t find my car, but I arrived at an asphalted road.

I had HamGPS installed on my phone and checked my position. No G3 network so that I could load Google maps… I had to memorize my locator: EM31ID59VG. I called Andy: My position is Echo Mike thirty-one India Delta five nine Victor Golf… Can you write this down? I’m standing on a solid asphalt road. How do I get to my car? – Let me type this in into APRS.fi… Ah, I can exactly see your position. Industrial Park Road. Walk down the road in South direction. There will be a dirt road to your right in about 500 ft. Follow that dirt road. There is your car. – Yes, I believe I remember this now…

I kept following the asphalt road but I couldn’t see a dirt road branching off to the right. Hmm, I think this was already 500 meters… Calling Andy again: Hey, my position is now EM31ID58QC… – Oh my God! you have been walking much too far! Go back to almost where you started! – Oh, OK, I’ll call back later…

I went back and finally I recognized the dirt road where I left my car: Andy, I’ve found my car! I’m sitting right in it. I’ll make a 5 minute break and drink something before I leave. – Make sure you can start it! – Don’t worry, it’s a Prius. It has two motors…

On the road again I realized that I was slowly running out of gas. The gas station at Burkeville was closed already, it was 11:20 pm. Good that Jasper was a bit larger. There where several stations and all of them were still open after midnight. I saved a life of a rabbit on the road and finally arrived at the lake house past 1 am. All my friends were awake. We were worried about you! – Yeah, this was a crazy day… Andy brought it to the point: You’re part of the entertainment program of Fishfest!