11,441 worldwide rescues
• 4,181 U.S. rescues
contributions to SARSAT - Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided
Tracking - are saving lives on land, sea and air. Unthinkable
before the space age, NOAA's earth-observing satellites now carry
SARSAT technology that can pick up distress signals anywhere on
the globe. The satellites can detect signals from emergency beacons
carried by boaters, flyers, hikers, and many others who might
be hit by sudden danger. In February, the signal from an emergency
beacon in Alaska led NOAA's U.S. Mission Control Center in Suitland,
Maryland to alert an Alaskan search and rescue team. With coordinates
identified by the control center, a helicopter team found three
hunters stranded in the snow and hoisted them to safety. With
average daytime highs in the minus teens, and wind chill below
minus 60 degrees, the hunters faced life or death.
months before, a sailboat in the Atlantic flipped over in 25-foot
seas and 40-mile an
hour winds. There was no time to issue a mayday call. But the
three-member crew did activate their emergency beacon. A SARSAT
satellite detected the beacon and relayed the signal to NOAA's
ground station in Puerto Rico. Fifteen minutes later, an alert
from the control center was in the hands of the Coast Guard
in Norfolk, Virginia. Within an hour, the crew was safely on
a rescue helicopter. Total time from beacon signal to successful
rescue was less than two hours - a dramatic improvement since
the days before SARSAT when it might have been weeks before
the Coast Guard even knew about the potentially tragic accident.
our country, over 300 lives are saved each year. Every country
benefits from the program. Thirty-three countries are formally
associated with it. NOAA operates the satellites, which also
work to accurately provide environmental and weather observations.
These satellites carry SARSAT technology (called payloads),
which come from Canada and France. Russia operates similar instruments
called COSPAS aboard its own satellites. Together, COPAS-
SARSAT work together as an international cooperative search
and rescue effort. In time, space equipment to detect emergency
beacons will also come from Europe and India.
Ajay Mehta manages SARSAT at NESDIS,
NOAA's National Environmental, Satellite, Data and Information
Service. Along with William Burkhart (operations lead),
Rick Vizbulis (technical lead), and an excellent 29-member team,
Ajay works closely with the Coast Guard, Air Force and NASA.
NOAA operates the satellites and ground systems. The Air Force
and Coast Guard handle rescue and search operations. NASA conducts
research and development.
Visit the NOAA SARSAT web site at http://www.sarsat.noaa.gov.