KH5K – The Kingman Reef Mystery!

The last time Kingman Reef was activated was the last week of October 2000, with Garry Shapiro, NI6T and Tom Harrell, N4XP as co-coordinators.

http://www.qsl.net/krpdxg/

As of this writing, Kingman Reef shows up on the 2011 DX Publishing Top 100 Needed list as #18, and on the July 2012 Clublog Top 100 as #8. It is obvious that the K5K Team did a really fantastic job – because 12 years is a long time without another activation, and that it isn’t higher in need on the list. It had been activated before – in 1974, 1977, 1980, 1981, 1988 and 1993. Garry, NI6T reports that there were also several one man activations, including Chuck Brady, N4BQW (SK) in February, 1998 and May, 2000.

I had heard about this DX-pedition while studying this very fine paper / web site by Kenny, K2KW as part of Team vertical:

http://www.k2kw.com/k5k/dxcomp.htm

I missed this most recent activation because I had been an inactive ham from 1977 – 2001 and didn’t get seriously into DX-ing until sometime late in 2001. So, needing this entity, and it seeming like it was “close” to Hawaii I started asking why it hadn’t been activated for so long. The first answers I got from “those in the know” did not add up – and seemed more like conjecture and rumor than fact. I heard these rumors:

  1. It is going to be deleted from the ARRL’s DXCC List because its status has changed and it no longer meets the criteria that grandfathered it on the list in the first place
  2. It might be under water
  3. The US Fish and Wildlife’s stringent requirements add too much cost to the trip
  4. Getting there is nearly impossible – or at least prohibitively expensive

Number 3 and 4 are correct, but when I checked with the ARRL, they said they know of no plans to delete Kingman Reef off the list. That rumor probably got started because when it was added to the list, it was under the jurisdiction of the US Navy, and that the jurisdiction change is clearly posted on several web sites. But as is always the case regarding the internet – not all of the facts are presented in one place.

By todays DXCC Rules (and they have changed many times over the years) – Kingman Reef is too close to Palmyra to be a valid DXCC. The status sure seemed to change in September, 2000 – one month before the K5K landed:

http://www.fws.gov/kingmanreef/

“On September 1, 2000, the Department of the Interior accepted restoration of its administrative jurisdiction over Kingman Reef from the Department of the Navy; Secretary’s Order 3223 signed January 18, 2001, established Kingman Reef National Wildlife Refuge.”

Lucky for the K5K Team – it was still safe and sound on the DXCC list when they landed – and it still is today. But I wondered “why this paradox – why isn’t it deleted today?”

I did some sleuthing and found out that while the K5K Team was on their way to Kingman Reef, the Navy ordered that they not land. Garry, NI6T has graciously supplied the details, which are documented in the QST Article (August 2001, pp47-52). This article won NI6T and N4XP the QST Cover Plaque Award:

  • Page 48: “Dave Johnson, WB4JTT, an attorney, would prove invaluable in dealing with the Navy, as well as taking charge of our generators.” Dave was an active team member.
  • Page 50: “Meanwhile Dave, WB4JTT, negotiated landing permission for Kingman with the Navy at Pearl Harbor.”
  • Page 50: “Then, a day after Machias’ departure from Honolulu, the Navy informed WB4JTT that our landing permission for Kingman Reef had been rescinded!
  • “Undaunted, Dave hurried to Pearl Harbor to renegotiate with the Navy, which had unresolved concerns about its liability in the event that something went awry on the reef. Dave’s calm assurances that we accepted responsibility for our actions and the serendipitous fact that–at N4XP’s insistence–we had all purchased travel insurance, won the day, and Dave emerged with a new landing permit.”

As it turns out, even today – you need permission from both the US Navy and the US F&W, and that’s why we are seeing permission granted to very sensitive entities like ZL9 – Auckland / Campbell, but not Kingman Reef. Sadly, there are a number of entities like this in the Pacific, all of them US Possessions, and all becoming difficult to activate – but not any more difficult than what the K5K Team had to go through! There is more to the “back story” regarding Kingman Reef access. Garry, NI6T reports:

  • Before WWII, the Fullard-Leo family of Honolulu owned nearly all of Palmyra Atoll as well as Kingman Reef. The Navy appropriated both Palmyra and Kingman by Executive Order in 1938 and had not willingly restored them to the Fullard-Leos post-war, leading to a noted court case won by the family–mostly. They got back Palmyra, but Kingman’s status was unresolved.They were in the process of selling Palmyra to The Nature Conservancy (TNC) during our planning, and TNC was actively showing the atoll to potential major contributors. The deal was closed shortly after our expedition concluded.
  • We decided to obtain landing permission for Kingman from both the Navy and the family, to avoid any permissions issues with ARRL.
  • As you can see, it is a complicated story. And, yes, due to revoked landing permission and losing our team doctor (N4BQW), there was definitely some pressure felt by the leaders. We did persevere, however.

Oh – and to see if it is under water, I turned to Flickr and found photographs as recent as April 2012, and photos of the reef taken just about every year going back. This means that people are landing, and one was a NOAA scientific expedition. So – I would suggest that if anyone really wants to activate Kingman Reef (and win the DX-pedition of the Year Award Just Because KY6R Needs It), I might suggest teaming up with a scientific mission or a diving mission there. I can tell that people in sailboats land there and dive there often – but I have no idea if they have legal landing permits or not.

Finally, Ann, WA1S provided some very interesting first person perspective on the K5K operation, and what it was like to actually be on that “shell spit:

“It’s not impossible to get there it just takes the right person to handle the legal part. If not done correctly it can spoil it for future DXpeditions. Time and patience is what I’ve been told. When a DXpedition happens on these islands the natural wildlife can not be disturbed and the island must be left as if we were never there.

Kingman Reef I remember at high tide was measured at about 600 feet long and 55 feet wide at its widest point. There is nothing there except for coral. At the time I was told the reef was shrinking and would eventually disappear into the Pacific.When walking around it sounded like you are walking on a bunch of sea shells. There is no sand. I do remember these bugs what I called “biting crickets”. They would get into your sleeping bag at night and bite you. The only way to avoid them was to take the cot and move it outside of the tent and pray for no rain. For some reason the wind was strong enough to keep them away. Yes it did rain.

Kingman is expensive to get to. One can only get there by boat. The surrounding reef is full of spiny sea urchins (red and black) so you have to clear a path for a zodiac to pass using a shovel. One of the guys just barely touched one of the spines with his finger and OUCH ! I never did get to do any diving there although I would have loved to.

I had heard some scuttlebutt about a year ago that there were others trying to go to Kingman but nothing recently. I know that Navassa is even more sought after than Kingman and since I am not involved in dealing with the US Fish and Wildlife I am just patently waiting in the sidelines hoping something will happen.”

So the “Kingman Reef Mystery” is solved. It remains on the list – and it is possible to activate. It is no more difficult than other difficult places to activate – you just have to be creative and have the right legal counsel and connections.

There have been a few activations over the years:

1974 – KP6KR

1977 – KP6BD

1980 – WA2FIJ/KH5K

1988 – K9AJ/KH5K

1993 – N9NS/KH5K

2000 – K5K

???? – AD0S/KH5K

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10 responses to “KH5K – The Kingman Reef Mystery!

  1. Interesting reading Rich. My hope that is that a team dedicated to resolving the requirements of the Navy and FWS will eventually gain access again. Good luck on your sleuthing :)

    John K7KB

  2. Do you plan to cover all 401 entities? Some of the deleteds from the 1960s and 1970s would probably be interesting since there are stories that some of them never actually existed.

    Peter N5UWY

    • Thanks everyone for your encouragement, and Peter, N5UWY, I hope to get through all entities. I agree with you – there are entities like Walvis Bay that especially interest me. I have access to all of the back QST articles, so as long as I can find people / sources for such places, I’ll do my best.

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    • Thanks Alan – I will look into that. I am very pleased that Acim and Hrane are trying to activate Kingman Reef – its been a looooong time. Of course, its also in my backyard – and since I just made HR on January 1 of this year – its a long time between ATNO’s for me. Especially really easy one’s – like KH5K would be – heh heh.

      73,

      Rich KY6R

      • Yes, indeed, Rich. An operation from Kingman Reef is well overdue. I did work KR from the UK, but there hasn’t been an operation since I moved to Cyprus more than ten years ago, so it will be an ATNO for me also. Good hunting!
        73
        Alan 5B4AHJ

  5. Pingback: Kingman Reef Should Be Deleted | Klown Time is Over

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