Contact: John Leslie
NOAA News Releases 2003
NOAA Home Page
NOAA Public Affairs

First Person to Use New Technology in the Contiguous United States

A Cleveland, Ohio, man was rescued by the U.S. Army Fort Drum Air Ambulance Detachment outside of Watertown, N.Y., Friday through the help of a personal locator beacon (PLB). This rescue was the first using PLB technology since they became available for use in the U.S., July 1, 2003.

Carl Skalak, 55, was in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York when he activated his PLB. At 10:45 a.m. EST, personnel at the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC), at Langley Air Force Base, Va., were notified of the distress call via the Search and Rescue Satellite Aid Tracking System (SARSAT), operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The AFRCC notifies the appropriate state emergency rescue agency in the area where the PLB was activated.

According to Lt. Daniel Karlson, SARSAT Operations Support Officer for NOAA, “the system worked like a gem.” Mr. Skalak decided to activate his PLB after he had become disoriented from his camp and then realized he was facing a life threatening situation due to the isolated conditions, his lack of supplies and the brutally frigid weather. “In a matter of a few hours Mr. Skalak might have become acutely hypothermic putting his life at risk,” Karlson explained. “Since he had properly registered his PLB we were able to immediately confirm his whereabouts and set the wheels in motion for his rescue.”

“This was a team effort between NOAA and the AFRCC from the beginning to bring the system to fruition in the U.S.,” said Lt. Col. Morgan. “Working together, we have been able to establish a system that which allows for a quicker response by emergency personnel, and will hopefully help save lives in the future.”

Prior to July, PLBs had only been available for use in Alaska under a test program to evaluate their usefulness in search and rescue. The success seen in Alaska paved the way for the technology to be used throughout the rest of the nation. “This particular rescue demonstrates how well our agencies work together when it comes to saving a life,” said Ajay Mehta, NOAA’s SARSAT Program Manager.

PLBs send out digital distress signals on the 406-megahertz frequency, which are detected by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) and Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellites (POES). GOES, the first to detect a beacon’s distress signal, hover in a fixed orbit above Earth and receive the signals, which contain registration information about the beacon and its owner. The POES constantly circle the globe, enabling them to capture and accurately locate the alerts to within a few miles. The satellites are part of the worldwide satellite search and rescue system called, COSPAS-SARSAT. The COSPAS-SARSAT system is a cluster of NOAA and Russian satellites that work together to detect distress signals anywhere in the world transmitted from PLBs and from beacons carried aboard ships and airplanes.
NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through programs like the SARSAT System and thru the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources.

The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center acts as the single federal agency for coordinating search and rescue missions in the inland regions of the 48 contiguous states.

On the Web:


NOAA Satellite and Information Service -