NOAA 2000-005
Contact: Pat viets


From Maui to Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico, 23 people were recently rescued in five separate boating incidents with the help of environmental satellites operated by the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"The rescues all resulted from the detection of 406 MHz emergency beacons by the international COSPAS-SARSAT search and rescue program," said Ajay Mehta, a program specialist at NOAA's SARSAT operations center in Suitland, Md. The COSPAS-SARSAT program, operated in the United States by NOAA, the Coast Guard, and the Air Force, uses NOAA environmental satellites equipped with Canadian and French search and rescue instruments; Russian satellites and instruments; and a network of ground stations to pick up distress signals from pilots, mariners and land-based users.

The 406 MHz transmitters send a precise, digitally coded signal that is unique to each transmitter. When the digital data is received, it is combined with the registration data on file with NOAA. This provides such information as aircraft type, identification, equipment on board, and emergency contact phone numbers. A signal from a 406 transmitter activated anywhere around the world will be received by search and rescue authorities, typically six hours sooner than with older types of transmitters.

The recent rescues are as follows: In the first incident, one rescue was recorded in Maalaea Harbor, Maui. In the second incident, two rescues were recorded 100 nautical miles south, south-west of Barrow, Alaska. Fifteen rescues were recorded in the third incident, 30 nautical miles southeast of New Providence Island in the Bahamas. One rescue was recorded in the fourth incident, 30 nautical miles south of Atchafalaya Bay, La. In the fifth incident, four rescues were recorded 60 nautical miles southeast of Galveston, Texas.

Since the inception of the COSPAS-SARSAT program 18 years ago, over 10,000 lives have been saved. Last year, 301 rescues were made in the United States. More than 30 countries are now associated with COSPAS-SARSAT as ground station providers or user states.

The COSPAS-SARSAT program was formed as a joint effort by the United States, Canada, France and the former Soviet Union. The first satellite was launched by the Soviet Union in 1982, followed by additional Soviet and U.S. satellites. Today there
are seven operational U.S. and Russian satellites involved in the program.

Note to Editors: The U.S. Mission Control Center is located in Suitland, Md., in Federal Building #4. Reporters who wish to visit the facility and/or interview someone in SARSAT operations should contact Patricia Viets at 301-457-5005.