NOAA Satellites Aided 250 Rescues in 2015

The International Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking System uses a network of spacecraft to detect and locate distress signals quickly from emergency beacons aboard aircraft and boats and from hand-held PLBs, enabling the rescues of downed pilots, shipwrecked boaters, stranded hikers, and others.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Feb. 15 that its satellites aided in the rescues of 250 people in 2015 from potentially life-threatening situations throughout the United States and its surrounding waters.

One of them was a U.S. Air Force pilot who had ejected from his F-16 fighter jet last fall north of Las Cruces, N.M. "When he safely reached the ground, the signal from his personal locator beacon, or PLB, was promptly picked up by NOAA satellites; the same spacecraft that help predict and track weather in the United States. That distress signal set into motion a coordinated rescue mission that brought him safely back to his family," according to NOAA.

NOAA satellites are part of the International Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking System, known as COSPAS-SARSAT, which uses a network of spacecraft to detect and locate distress signals quickly from emergency beacons aboard aircraft and boats and from hand-held PLBs, enabling the rescues of downed pilots, shipwrecked boaters, stranded hikers, and others. Distress signals are relayed to the SARSAT Mission Control Center based at NOAA's Satellite Operations Facility in Suitland, Md., with that information going to a Rescue Coordination Center (operated by either the U.S. Air Force for land rescues or the U.S. Coast Guard for water rescues).

"While NOAA satellites are important tools for generating your local weather forecast, they can also mean the difference between life and death if you find yourself stranded in the wilderness or at sea," said Chris O'Connors, NOAA SARSAT's program manager. According to NOAA, last year's 250 saves included 138 rescues on the water, 21 aviation incidents, and 91 land-based events.

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