NOAA Satellites Aided 263 Rescues in 2012

These seven satellites are part of the international Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking System, called Cospas-Sarsat.

The seven NOAA weather and climate satellites were involved in the rescues of 263 people during 111 mergencies in the United States and surrounding waters last year, according to the agency, which said the satellites also tracked Hurricane Sandy last October.

They circle the globe or sit above the United States and carry instruments to detect distress signals from emergency beacons carried by downed pilots, boaters in distress, and stranded hikers. The satellites are part of the international Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking System, called Cospas-Sarsat.

"NOAA satellites were instrumental in emergency situations," said Chris O'Connors, program manager for NOAA SARSAT. "Our ability to pick up a distress signal, isolate the location within 100 yards, and initiate the appropriate rescue response definitely saves lives." Among the 263 people who were rescued last year, 182 were rescued from the water, 22 from aviation incidents, and 59 from situations on land where they used Personal Locator Beacons. NOAA said the rescue highlights in 2012 included:

  • Alaska had the most rescues with 45, followed by 38 in North Carolina and 25 in Florida.
  • 14 people were rescued from the tall ship HMS Bounty more than 200 miles off the North Carolina coast.
  • Three people were rescued after their sailboat rolled in heavy waves off the San Francisco coast.
  • In the Gulf of Mexico, five people were pulled to safety when their fishing boat began taking on water.
  • Seven were rescued 400 miles west of Honolulu after their fishing boat caught fire.
  • A Boy Scout troop on a canoe trip in Yuma, Ariz., activated its PLB for its scout leader, who was having a medical emergency.

The SARSAT Mission Control Center at NOAA's Satellite Operations Facility in Suitland, Md., is alerted when one of the satellites receives a distress signal. The information goes to a Rescue Coordination Center operated by the U.S. Air Force for land rescues or the U.S. Coast Guard for rescues at sea.

Since Cospas-Sarsat began in 1982, it has aided more than 30,000 rescues worldwide, including 6,999 in the United States and its surrounding waters. Those who own a SARSAT device are required to register it with NOAA, a process that can be done online. More than 37,000 new registrations were completed in 2012, a record number for a single year.

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