NOAA 2004-032
Contact: John Leslie

NOAA News Releases 2004
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Within the first three months of 2004, the Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellites were pivotal in rescuing 60 people from life-threatening situations. During the same time period last year, only 27 rescues were made.

NOAA officials linked the increase in rescues to the public’s growing embrace of the high-tech emergency beacons, used on airplanes, boats and carried around by outdoor enthusiasts. The beacon technology is part of the international Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking System known as (COSPAS-SARSAT).

In one dramatic rescue in early March, 10 people were pulled to safety after a catamaran capsized in Manele Bay, near Lanai, Hawaii. Another harrowing rescue happened in January, when three shrimp fishermen were plucked out of the Gulf of Mexico,15 miles from Port Isabel, Texas.

“Usually, the winter months are quieter [for rescues], and we have more saved lives during the spring and summer when more beacon users are flying, boating or outdoors in remote areas,” said Gregory W. Withee, assistant administrator of NOAA’s Satellites and Information Service – the lead U.S. agency for SARSAT. “We’re encouraged to see the SARSAT system work in detecting distress signals of people in danger.”

The SARSAT system uses NOAA’s polar-orbiting and geostationary-orbiting satellites to detect and locate Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (used onboard boats and ships), Emergency Locator Transmitters (carried aboard aircrafts) and Personal Locator Beacons (designed for hikers and campers.)

Once the satellites pick up a distress signal, it is relayed to the U.S. Mission Control Center, which NOAA operates in Suitland, Md. After pinpointing the location of the distress, the signal is routed to a Rescue Coordination Center operated by the U.S. Coast Guard or the Air Force. In the United States, the Coast Guard has responsibility for all maritime distresses, and the Air Force handles all inland search and rescue cases.

The NOAA Satellites and Information Service is the nation’s primary source of space-based meteorological and climate data. It operates America’s environmental satellites, which are used for weather and ocean observation, forecasting and climate monitoring.

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