Personal Locator Beacons Saved 88 Last Year, a New Record

Personal locator beacons that send a distress signal allowed 353 people to be rescued in emergency situations in the United States and its surrounding waters in 2007, the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Jan. 17. NOAA’s polar-orbiting and geostationary satellites and Russia’s Cospas spacecraft are part of the international Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking System (COSPAS-SARSAT), which detects and locates distress signals from emergency beacons aboard aircraft and boats and from handheld personal locator beacons. The system is in its 25th year of operation and has been credited with more than 22,000 rescues worldwide, including more than 5,700 in the United States and its waters.

All of the 2007 rescues from planes’ transmitters used older emergency beacons, which operate on the 121.5 and 243 megahertz frequencies. These will be phased out by early 2009, when 406 megahertz beacons will become the new standard. The 406 megahertz beacons use Global Positioning System technology for instant detection, which will enable faster rescues. Beginning Feb. 1, 2009, the 121.5 MHz signal will not be processed. "It's critical that everyone gets the message now to make the switch to the 406 MHz beacons," said Chris O'Conners, acting program manager for NOAA SARSAT. He said beacon registrations climbed in 2007 to 29,710, up from 23,383 in 2006. "Anyone with plans to hike or camp in a remote area where cell phone service is not reliable, or sail a boat far from shore, should not leave home without an emergency locator beacon, registered with NOAA," O'Conners said.

Alaska and Florida recorded the most rescues in 2007, with 73 each. North Carolina was third with 16 rescues. Of the 353 rescues, 235 were people saved at sea, 30 rescued from downed aircraft, and 88 saved with help from their personal locator beacons -- and this figure is the highest annual total since PLBs became operational nationwide in 2003. Total U.S. rescues in 2006 were 272, NOAA reported.

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