NOAA 2004-071
Contact: John Leslie

NOAA News Releases 2004
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NOAA satellites, capturing distress signals from land, sea and air, were key in saving 54 lives in 27 potentially deadly situations throughout the United States from April to June. For the year, NOAA satellites have helped rescue114 lives. By comparison, this time last year, 94 saves were recorded. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

NOAA officials commended outdoor enthusiasts for their growing use of high-tech 406-megahertz emergency beacons used on airplanes, boats and carried around by hikers and campers on land. The beacon technology is part of the international Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking System, known as

“We continue to encourage lovers of the outdoors, who are doing the responsible thing – buying and registering these emergency beacons and, most importantly, using them in the right situations,” said Gregory W. Withee, assistant administrator of NOAA’s Satellites and Information Service, the lead U.S. agency for SARSAT.

In one dramatic rescue on June 13, a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter crew hoisted a man to safety from a life raft, after his boat burned and sank near Portsmouth, Va. NOAA satellites picked up the distress signal from the boat’s Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon and relayed the signal to a Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Center, which contacted the nearest Coast Guard unit to make the save.

“By saving lives, these SARSAT rescues are proving the value of a strong, effective Earth observation system, in which NOAA satellites play a key role,” said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.

The SARSAT system uses NOAA’s polar-orbiting and geostationary satellites to detect and located EPIRBS (used on boats and ships), Emergency Locator Transmitters (carried aboard aircraft) and Personal Locator Beacons (hand carried), designed for hikers and campers. Once the satellites receive 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, information is routed to RCCs operated by the Coast Guard and U.S. Air Force.

July 1 marked the one-year anniversary that PLBs have been authorized for use nationwide. Within a year, NOAA has registered 1,855 PLBs, most coming from Florida, California and Alaska. From April to June, PLBs helped save six lives – all in Alaska.

NOAA’s Satellites and Information Service is America’s primary source of space-based oceanographic, meteorological, and climate data. It operates the nation’s environmental satellites, which are used for ocean and weather observation and forecasting, climate monitoring, and other environmental applications. Some of the oceanographic applications include sea-surface temperature for hurricane and weather forecasting and sea-surface heights for El Niño prediction.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources.

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