NOAA satellites, which are critical for weather and climate predictions, helped rescue 397 people from potentially life-threatening situations in the United States and surrounding waters in 2022.
NOAA’s polar-orbiting and geostationary satellites are part of the global Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking System, or COSPAS-SARSAT, which uses a network of US and international spacecraft to detect and locate distress signals transmitted by distress signals from aircraft, boats, and boats and handhelds are sent Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) anywhere in the world.
Of the 397 US rescues last year, 275 were water rescues, 42 from downed planes and 80 were on land using PLBs. Florida had the most SARSAT rescues at 106, followed by Alaska at 56 and Utah at 20.
Since its launch in 1982, COSPAS-SARSAT has been credited with assisting more than 50,000 rescue operations worldwide, including more than 10,100 in the United States and surrounding waters.
When a NOAA satellite pinpoints the location of a distress signal in the United States, the information is relayed to the SARSAT Mission Control Center at NOAA’s satellite operations facility in Suitland, Maryland. From there, information is quickly sent to rescue coordination centers operated by either the US Air Force for land rescues or the US Coast Guard for water rescues. NOAA also supports rescue operations worldwide by relaying distress signal information to international SARSAT partners.
“The value of NOAA satellites goes well beyond predictions,” said Steve Volz, Ph.D., associate administrator of NOAA’s satellite and information services. “SARSAT’s life-saving capability is a credit to teamwork with the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Air Force NASA and our international partners.”
Here’s a look at three of the most notable events from 2022:
- On June 10, a group of 17 hikers were rescued after being stranded on a ridge in Utah’s Sandthrax Canyon. The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center received the alert from a PLB and notified the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office, which launched a Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter to the coordinates of where the distressed hikers were located.
- On November 20, seven people were rescued from an airliner after an engine failure forced it to land on a frozen lake near Bethel, Alaska. The Alaska Rescue Coordination Center, which received the coordinates of the downed plane, alerted another aircraft company that performed the rescue.
- On August 5, a US Coast Guard helicopter rescued a sailor from his capsized boat off the coast of New Smyrna Beach, Florida. The sailor grabbed the life raft and activated its beacon before his boat sank.
By law, Beacon owners are required to register their devices online with NOAA. Registration information helps to better and faster help people in need, reduces false positives and can also indicate what kind of help is needed.
“In keeping with its mission, the SARSAT program really takes ‘search’ out of search and rescue,” Volz added.
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