Another Fun Day At Lualualei


Panic at Fifty Feet

by Chuck Kircher


The trade winds were gently blowing across the lush green antenna fields of the NMO transmitter site at Lualualei. It was another beautiful day in paradise and it was the weekend. Larry and I were outside the transmitter building enjoying our morning coffee and the sight of the sun rising over the Wai’anae range in the distance. Most duty days at the site were Hawaiian style; pretty much laid back and the weekends were no exception. Clean up chores were accomplished quickly, maintenance of equipment done on a regular basis and the major task -- cutting the grass in the antenna fields -- done without complaint. Almost all the ETs at Lualualei could repair that precious riding mower as well as any of the transmitters. And with acres of grass to cut, the mower required frequent repairs.

Larry and I were talking about what to do that weekend. One thing that Larry had frequently talked about was climbing the low frequency antenna to take pictures of the surrounding valley. The antenna was a three sided, erector set, 150 foot tower resting on a concrete pedestal immediately adjacent to the transmitter building. A ladder ran up the inside. From time to time the warning lights would burn out and need replacement. I had been up the tower a few times to accomplish the task and had told Larry about the fantastic view. We decided to make the trek right after we checked to make sure that everything was online and humming.

Cameras in hand, safety belts on and a bottle of water each, we were ready by mid morning to begin the adventure. First, we had to get up on the roof of the transmitter building. This was easy enough since the building was mostly underground and it was a short step stool distance to the roof. We figured on jumping from the roof to the antenna, precluding a nasty RF burn in case some unsuspecting RM at Wahiawa keyed the transmitter at an inopportune moment. Larry wanted me to lead the way since I had done it before and I willingly obliged. With all the alacrity of youth, I jumped, climbed inside the tower and hooked my safety belt to the track running up the ladder. I climbed upward to make room for Larry. He hesitated for a moment and then jumped. Once inside, he belted in and we were on our way up.

So far, so good.

The ladder did not go straight up the tower. At fifty-foot intervals it switched to another side of the interior triangle. Upon reaching the first level, I unhooked my belt, turned to the next section and hooked up again. Unconcerned I continued up to the next level and did the same. At the very top, I took in the spectacular vista. Looking down, I saw that Larry was still at the fifty foot level.

‘Larry, you okay?’ I yelled.

‘I can’t release my belt!’ he called back.

‘Is it stuck?’

‘No’ he cried, ‘ I CAN’T release it!’

‘If it’s not stuck, why won’t it release?’ I responded quizzically.

‘You don’t understand,’ he yelled, ‘I’m afraid of heights and can’t let go.’

Only then did I recognize that he had a grip on the ladder that would make a contortionist proud. Great -- why didn’t he tell me this before we started. ‘Do you want to go down?’, I asked

‘Just give me time and let me calm down.’

It looked like I was in for a long wait so might as well enjoy the scenery, take a few pictures and wait for Larry to make the next call.

After a half hour, Larry still wasn’t moving and I felt I had best start down. If transmitter troubles started, no one was in position to respond to the call from the RMs. At the 100 foot level I asked Larry if he was ready to move yet. He wasn’t sure. I came down to just above Larry and asked again. No, he still wasn’t ready to let loose. So now what do I do?  I could unhook my safety belt, squeeze past him, and then what?  Leave him stranded?  Call the Chief?  I’m sure that would go over big. ‘Er, Chief, Larry and I decided to climb the tower this morning and now Larry is stuck like the proverbial cat in a tree and won’t budge.’

I appealed to Larry’s sense of logic,  ‘You are belted in and it is only fifty feet!’  That didn’t work. How about his sense of survival, ‘It is almost chow time and we have to drive down to the mess hall soon!’  Nope, fear of heights beats hunger. I was starting to get a little panicky and had visions of Captain’s Mast, reduction in rank, plus who knows what. How could this problem be resolved?  Then it hit me that maybe he needed a security blanket. I proposed that I unbelt myself, climb down to him and we both climb down with him between me and the ladder. Larry was willing to try it, so I came down, surrounded him, broke loose his death grip on the ladder and we slowly moved together. It took almost a half hour to come down those fifty feet as we had to stop periodically for a breather. By the time we reached bottom, Larry was sweating enough for the both of us.

Back on the ground, Larry exclaimed, ‘Never again! Why did I ever want to do that? ’  Then he turned to me and asked, ‘ Did you get any good pictures up there?’ 

‘Yeah, I did, Larry, and you’re welcome.’


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Another Fun Day At Lualualei -or- Panic at Fifty Feet by Chuck Kircher - In which Larry surprises Chuck.