Adventure on Deboullie Mountain
By Shawn Romanoski , Director of Radio Operations
The Deboullie Mountain repeater is located in the north Maine woods and is the most northern repeater in the State of Maine Department of Conservation (DOC) radio communications system. DOC is a key player in the 250 mile Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Races. See http://can-am.sjv.net/main.htm . On Wednesday, February 25, during preparations for the Can-Am race, the only repeater capable of providing the necessary coverage ceased operating. As the radio system is the primary emergency channel for the race, it was critical to get this back in operation prior to the Can-Am event.
At 5:20 p.m., the Radio Operations staff within the State of Maine Office of Information Technology was notified that the system had failed. With the assistance of Ranger Lance Martin, contact was made with an aviation company in Fort Kent to schedule an early fly-by of the repeater site to check for a trail into the site and to verify that the solar panels were not visibly damaged or covered with snow. The report came back as: (1) no trails within 20 miles, (2) panels have no visible indication that would prevent operation, (3) antenna was in place, and (4) no signs of building damage.
Based on the report, the only transportation into the site was by helicopter. Radio Services Director Shawn Romanoski requested that the Huey helicopter from the Department of Conservation Maine Forest Service fly three technicians to the difficult-to-maneuver site. John Covert, Mike Clary, and Travis Swaim prepared a complete package to replace all equipment and antennas, if necessary. Due to the weather conditions, the technicians were advised to take enough equipment to spend the night in the event the helicopter was not able to return before sunset.
The technicians departed Old Town airport with pilots Chris Blackie and Shawn Rogers in Huey 945 at 11:30 a.m. and arrived at the site a little over an hour later. The deep snow left no access to the landing zone, so the pilots made several passes to determine the safest location to hover while the crew unloaded. The pilots made contact with the surface of the snow and maintained a hover while the technicians and equipment were cleared from beneath the rotors. Then the Huey departed.
The technicians broke trails and shoveled their way into to the communications site to discover the voltage regulator had failed. Tests were done on the battery system, the antenna and cable system, and the radio. All was operational with the exception of the voltage regulator. This was replaced and functional checks were performed. One hour after arriving at the site, the team listed the site as operational and requested via the Deboullie repeater for a pick-up by helicopter. The team arrived back at the Old Town airport at approximately 4:30 p.m.
Peter Sirois, President of the Can-Am Crown said “we couldn't believe how responsive the State of Maine was, without them we would have been in dire straights. Search and rescue are major parts of the Can-Am wilderness experience. We knew we needed a miracle when we were told a helicopter would have to be acquisitioned to repair the tower, and a miracle we received. I can't say thank you enough”.