Phone Interview with Rusty Epps

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Phone Interview with Rusty Epps


A phone conversation between Rusty Epps and Jesse W Johnson (Digital Curator of the Palmyra Archive). Rusty is an amateur radio operator who was part of, and led, several DXpeditions to Palmyra. They discuss details of his trips, other persons of interest, and various topics related to the island.


Jesse W Johnson




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Audio File

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Starting at 17:00 minutes:

Pete and the Wheelers did there thing and they got to Palmyra, Jack knew right where to cut, where the reef was, how to get in and they were there waiting for him. Now, when we sailed-it was a six day sail for us, from Hawaii to Palmyra and when we got there, very interesting that we, uhh, Jack and his family were already inside the lagoon, yet there was another boat off-had not been able to get through the cut, and it was just kind of anchored on the reef out there. We had no idea who these people were or why they were there but it was pretty obvious that they hadn’t figured out how to get in through that cut or exactly where it was. Now, what made it easy for us, ehh, we had radio communication with Jack and his group already in, and Jack knew there were a couple landmarks on the island, like a tree and a post, and Jack said, okay, that’s what you do is you sail around until the tree lines up with the post and then you aim straight for them, and of course he was able to be talking us through all this to bring us through the little cut to get into the safe anchorage.

Before we went in we did go out to the-where the other boat was and you know indicated to them that we were gonna go in if they wanted to follow us that would be fine. They kind of waved us off, so we went on in-had no problem getting through the cut into the protected harbor and we tied up right next to Jack Wheeler’s boat and went about doing our HAM radio things for 2 or 3 days. On the 3rd day that we were there, the day before we were to leave for Kingman Reef, the other boat-we saw it try to sail through the cut and didn’t make it. They ran aground on the reef. Yea, that was pretty bad.
We went out and took the dingies from our boat and Jack’s boat and were able to pull them off and finally tow them in and tie them up at you know a pier left from the old Navy operations there. So they got in safely.

Now, the reason I’m making the point of this is the, let me just continue on for a minute-our plan was to leave the next day to go on to Kingman Reef, which we did. Jack was going to stay there, all the time that we were at Kingman reef, as the backup. But a day out from when we left Palmyra we got a call from Jack on the radio saying guys, I’m sorry to change plans on you, but my family and I have already departed Palmyra and we’re on the way back to Honolulu. Frankly I am worried about being on Palmyra with those people that we pulled in. And, um, that was it, we did our thing at Kingman Reef and, you know went on and ultimately back to Hawaii. Now what went on at Palmyra was a bit different. A couple days after we left, another boat pulled in that belonged to a San Diego couple called Malcom and Duff Graham. This was a absolutely beautiful boat...We were the ones that pulled them off the reef….What made it all the more interesting was what Jack said, these people are absolutely crazy.

It was an eye opener to us, because, our DxPeditions for Ham’s are great at adventures and fun things, but we would never, and stupidly so, consider the dangers of other people out there that may have very different objectives than we did. And I thought back on that many, many times, that we got out of there. I mean had it been another day or two, it could have been us rather than the Graham’s who got murdered...Stephanie mentioned to me that she had bought a book on how to navigate, the day they were headed to leave. It took them a month to get from Hawaii to Palmyra. And they had used up all of their food and all of their fuel for the boat, which is why they tried to sail through rather than come in under, ya know, motor power. And they weren’t real good sailors, which is why they ended up running aground.

They-once we got them in they wanted nothing to do with us and we quickly discovered the feeling was mutual, because they had no food, they were out collecting coconuts, and the way they collected coconuts was that Buck had a chainsaw and just lopped down coconut palms. Which did go over well with us and particular Jack Wheeler who was a real ecologist. You know that’s not the way that you get coconuts. Also, the island was covered with birds, particularly terns, and uh, even though they didn’t do this while we were there apparently after we left they were out shooting terns with a pistol of some kind to get something to eat. So, that was their story and they were in desperate shapes really. They were out of food and water and fuel, and there they were at an uninhabited island.

So,I think Jack did real well getting out of there. Now, the Grahams came in. It turns out, the Grahams were not HAMs, but they were using HAM radio to keep in touch with a couple friends.

Ending at 25:31

Original Format

Audio File




Jesse W Johnson, “Phone Interview with Rusty Epps,” Palmyra Archive, accessed September 19, 2020,


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