Belfast Telegraph

How a radio ham in a Castlederg shed saved hundreds of lives on a US flight

By Donna Deeney

A ham radio operator helped save the lives of hundreds of passengers on a US-bound flight while sitting in his garden shed in Co Tyrone.

Benny Young (29), an amateur radio enthusiast from Castlederg who spends most evenings scanning the airwaves around the world, was listening in while the east coast of America was being battered by Hurricane Sandy at the end of last month.

He tuned his equipment to a high frequency network and picked up two Boston locals discussing the debris flying around outside.

He was just about to move on to a different frequency when he suddenly heard “Mayday, Mayday”, and his hand froze on the dial.

The distress call was coming from the pilot of a United Airlines flight from Dublin to Boston but, unable to contact Air Traffic Control, he’d switched to an emergency frequency.

Still unable to be heard by the operator of the emergency band, he was picked up by Mr Young, sitting thousands of miles away in Castlederg.

Mr Young explained how the drama unfolded as he swung into action.

“The way the signals work means that sometimes people who are very close in distance may not be able to hear each other but could be heard by someone a long distance away, which is what happened to me.

“I had heard two ordinary people discussing the effects of the storm and the amount of debris that was flying around because of Sandy.

“I listened for a while and was just about to move the dial when I heard the mayday.

“The call was coming into an emergency frequency but I realised the two local people couldn't hear the distress call and neither could the operator, but because I was at the other side of the Atlantic I could, so I spoke up and established contact.

“The pilot explained that the plane’s transponder had been taken out by the storm, which meant he was unable to contact Boston Airport.

“So, because I was able to speak with both the pilot and the operator of the emergency frequency, I relayed the information between the two and the flight was safely diverted and landed.”

Mr Young, who works as a van driver, has been interested in radio networks since he was a boy of 11 when he had a CB radio, before setting up a most sophisticated system that allows him to speak with people all over the globe.

He admitted the air scare was a new experience for him.

He added: “The whole thing lasted about 10 minutes and I never got any sense of panic at any time.

“But I felt good when the plane landed and all the passengers had arrived safely, and as far as I know, not one of them was in any way aware of the drama, or that a van driver from Castlederg was talking to their plane from his garden shed.”

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