NOAA Satellites Aided in the Rescue 186 People at Sea in 2017

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February 13, 2018

NOAA satellites aided in the rescue of 275 lives in 2017, including 186 rescues taking place at sea, according to new numbers released by U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said on Tuesday.

While most people may associate satellites with weather forecasting or GPS, they are also part of the international Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking System, or COSPAS-SARSAT, which uses a network of domestic and international spacecraft to detect and locate distress signals from emergency beacons aboard aircraft, boats and handheld personal locator beacons on land.

When a NOAA satellite pinpoints the location of a distress signal, the information is relayed to the SARSAT Mission Control Center at NOAA’s Satellite Operations Facility in Suitland, Maryland. From there, the information is quickly sent to Rescue Coordination Centers, operated by either the U.S. Air Force for land rescues, or the U.S. Coast Guard for water rescues.

Since the program’s inception in 1982, COSPAS-SARSAT has been credited with supporting more than 41,000 rescues worldwide, including more than 8,300 in the United States and its surrounding waters.

“NOAA satellites aren’t just for accurate weather forecasts. They play a direct role in saving lives,” said RDML Tim Gallaudet, Ph.D., USN Ret., Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Acting Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere. “In a real sense, SARSAT can mean the difference between life and death.”

In 2017, a total of 275 people were rescued within the United States and its surrounding waters with the help of NOAA satellites. Among those, 186 were in water, 15 were from aviation incidents and 74 were on land.

As a reminder, beacon owners are required to register their devices with NOAA online. At the end of 2017, NOAA’s database contained more than 560,566 registrations.

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