Angel of airwaves

Girl who took injured hiker’s walkie-talkie call rewarded

By KATHY KORENGEL

Herald Writer

MARYSVILLE — A girl who helped save an injured hiker 100 miles away with her walkie-talkie was rewarded recently for her good deed by members of a group that has been using radios to save stranded people for years.

Mikayla Whitley, 11, of Marysville received an award from Radio Emergency Associated Communications Team, or REACT, last weekend in Kirkland.

The group gave Mikayla the award to recognize her good deed and to promote a campaign to make such rescues less random.

John Fisken, a Brier resident and member of the Pacific Northwest Region REACT council, said the goal of the campaign is to designate one channel on walkie-talkies as an emergency call channel. That way, people needing help have a greater chance of being heard, Fisken said.

Mikayla, a sixth-grader at Immaculate Conception School in Everett, hasn’t let the award, or numerous interviews with TV, magazine and newspaper reporters, go to her head, however.

"I’m just an average kid that did something I needed to do," Mikayla said.

Mikayla’s fling with fame started Sept. 24, while she was flipping through the channels of her lime-green walkie-talkie.

"I heard someone say, "Is anybody out there?’ " Mikayla recalled. "I was freaked."

The caller was Michael Wyant, who had been hiking on the west side of Mount Stuart, about 100 miles away — but his and Mikayla’s walkie-talkies usually have only about a 2-mile range.

Mikayla said she didn’t believe the caller at first, but did after he said he’d fallen and injured his leg and asked her to call the Chelan County sheriff’s office.

Mikayla told her mother, Lori Whitley, who, after several calls, got through to the Chelan County sheriff’s office. Mikayla and her mother then relayed information between the sheriff’s office and Wyant until he was rescued by helicopter that afternoon.

Mikayla said she’s not the only one who should be rewarded.

"The sheriff’s department did a lot of work, and the pilot of the helicopter," Mikayla said. "They’re really brave, and they do that work every day."

She also found out in getting her award that her radio rescue was not that unique. Several members of the club told similar stories.

Fisken said he’d once helped a man in North Dakota whose car had slipped off the road.

Al Friedman, dean of the science and math division of Everett Community College, said he doesn’t totally understand how the long-distance rescues can happen.

In Mikayla’s case, the fact that Wyant was high in the mountains may have helped carry his radio waves, Friedman said.

Radio waves from walkie-talkies need to have a clear line of sight to be received by another walkie-talkie, Friedman said. Big objects, such as hills, can block that line.

Fisken said the chances of being heard on a walkie-talkie in such a situation are now about 500 to 1 — given that they have 14 channels, as well as 38 tones on which to make a call.

REACT’s message is that people with walkie-talkies should set them to channel 1, with no tone, when not using them. To call someone, they’d make contact on channel 1 and then switch to another channel to talk, leaving channel 1 free to send and receive emergency messages.

Mikayla likes the idea.

She also liked being recognized, but that wasn’t her greatest reward.

"The best feeling was knowing you helped somebody and knowing they’re OK," she said.

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