NOAA satellites help rescue 240 people last year

03 Feb 2015
SARSAT helped in 112 sea rescues in 2014. Credit: NOAA

SARSAT helped in 112 sea rescues in 2014. Credit: NOAA

NOAA’s fleet of weather satellites helped save 240 people last year from potentially life-threatening situations throughout the United States and its surrounding waters.

In addition to their vital role in weather forecasting, NOAA’s polar-orbiting and geostationary satellites can detect distress signals from emergency beacons carried by shipwrecked boaters, downed pilots, and stranded hikers. Information captured from these satellites, including location, are then relayed to first responders on the ground who assist with search and rescue efforts.

Of the 240 rescues in 2014, 112 were waterborne rescues and 113 were from events where Personal Locator Beacons were used. A notable incident was where signals received by the NOAA satellites helped the US Coast Guard to rescue five people from a capsised fishing vessel 20 miles off the Oregon coast.

NOAA satellites are part of the international Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking System, known as COSPAS-SARSAT. This system uses a network of spacecraft to detect and locate distress signals quickly from emergency beacons onboard aircraft and boats, and from PLBs.

When a NOAA satellite finds the location of a distress signal, the information is relayed to the SARSAT Mission Control Center based at NOAA’s Satellite Operations Facility in Suitland, Maryland. From there, the information is quickly sent to a Rescue Coordination Center, operated by either the US Coast Guard for water rescues, or the US Air Force for land rescues.

“From helping rescue a lost hiker to finding a capsized fishing vessel to providing the data and information that underpins our daily weather forecasts, NOAA satellites help protect lives and property every day,” said Chris O’Connors, NOAA SARSAT program manager.

Since 1982, COSPAS-SARSAT has been credited with supporting more than 37,000 rescues worldwide, including more than 7,492 in the United States and its surrounding waters.

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