Flashing Light Morse Code
Crucial in Atlantic Rescue
The following story was reported by a
sailor on the USS Dahlgren on February 22, 1992.
“I was a
sailor aboard a US Navy Guided Missile Destroyer, the USS Dahlgren
(DDG43). The weather on that fateful morning was calm and pleasant as we
prepared for our daily duty. Suddenly alarms sounded throughout the ship
and dark, black smoke began to fill the inside air.
minutes the typical hum of the steam engines silenced. The majority of
the crew immediately gathered on the outside decks and watched as the
ship slowed to a dead stop in the Atlantic Ocean. Smoke billowed from the
forward exhaust stack! A fire had started in the front engine room and
the fire team sprang into action.
hours later the fire had been extinguished and we turned back towards
home and limped along on a single engine and propeller. The message of
our distress had gone out via the electronic messaging systems onboard,
but soon after a rescue tug appeared on the horizon.
voice communication was established, it was the flashing light stationed
on the bridge wing that enabled rapid and constant communication with the
tug as it pulled alongside. I had previously watched the signalmen pass
along messages during underway replenishment and other activities, but it
was during that time of extreme danger that I was extremely thankful for
the coding skills of my ship's signalmen. They helped guide the rescue
tug into position and allowed for our successful return home.”
The Morse code invented more than
one-hundred-fifty years ago, has long provided a means of simple but
effective communication, rescue and rapid response. Cryptically coded
communications were encoded and de-coded by trained operators during
two World wars often enabling covert operations. World War II pilots
and airmen regularly pounded out messages using keyers strapped to
their legs, sending Morse code through headphones of their flight
crews. Coast Guardsmen Worldwide rely on the code to help locate
survivors from oceanic mishaps. Pilots use the code to identify their
destinations and whether or not they are on their proper heading. Of
course, a main use today for the Morse code is in Radio, both amateur
and commercial. Persons familiar with the code continue to believe that
it is the surest way to “get through,” in the busy radio bands.
Edited by Gerald R. Wheeler Ed.
Misspelled in Flashing Light Morse Code
In 1927 the city of Pittsburgh
built an office building designed by architect Henry Hornbostel.
It has 40 floors and was built of limestone and brick. It is called
the Grant building and the most interesting feature is at the top
of the building. There is a beacon, which at the time was the
largest in the world. This beacon spells out the name of the city –
Pittsburgh – in flashing light Morse code. The beacon is so bright
it can be seen for 100 miles.
Pittsburgh resident and HAM
operator, Tom Stapleton N7JKJ, noticed a problem with the signal
broadcast while casually watching the beacon. Tom realized that the
beacon had broadcast the letter “K”. There is no “K” in
“Pittsburgh” so he de-coded the entire message and realized that it
was actually spelling “Pitetsbkrrh.” Tom contacted the Pittsburgh
Post-Gazette to inform them of the Morse code error and the story
was run July 12, 2009. Owners of the tower have no idea how long it
has been misspelled but without the expertise of someone who knows
Morse code and flashing light Morse, the problem may never have
been identified. One can only wonder why no ham radio operators
had discovered the problem earlier?
Flashing light Morse code has
been used as a communication mode during hostilities, as a way to
maintain radio silence. Seasoned operators can copy up to 14 Words
Per Minute while radiomen can decode at 25-35 auditory words per
minute. Although the speed of transmission in order to be
deciphered must be slower than with sound, flashing light even from
a source as small as a flashlight or a mirror can be read for great
distances and requires no power grid. Who knows how many rescues
have take place from flashing car lights or flashlights in blizzard
situations. The author heard a story about a hunter lost from his
party on a cold winter night who was rescued by flashing an SOS
with his flashlight.
In a “Dear Abby” column, Dots
and Dashes in Tennessee states, “I’m a female in my mid-30s.
One night a few years ago, my cousin and I were driving through
Oklahoma on a lonely dark stretch of road. When I ran out of gas,
I turned on my emergency flashers, but nobody stopped. After
approximately an hour I flashed ‘SOS’ to several big trucks going
by, and within 10 minutes, a state trooper pulled up. He said
several had called and reported seeing “SOS.’ (Nobody called about
the emergency blinkers!)” Her kind of preparation may also save
Most radio operators have never
learned to decipher flashing light, but the characters remain the
same as for international Morse code. With a little effort, a
person adept at auditory code can often pick up enough flashing
light to be able to send and receive in as little as a few days.
The secret to copying Flashing Light Morse code is to locate a
consistently spaced signal and practice turning the flashes into
code dahs and dits or sound-alikes in your mind. Some amazing
software is available for this purpose. It is a skill well worth
your time to master.