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EPIRB rescues: keeping score

JAN. 24 — What began as a way to watch the weather has become a critical tool for rescues worldwide.

Over the course of last year, 353 people were rescued in the United States and its surrounding seas due to personal locator beacons or EPIRBs, transmitting signals via the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) environmental satellite to rescue teams, according to a NOAA press release.

This is a marked increase from the 2006 total of 272. The satellite is more commonly known for providing information to weather forecasters, but over the past 25 years has been doing double-duty along with Russia’s Cospas spacecraft as part of the international Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking System called COSPAS-SARSAT. Detecting emergency signals on aircraft and personal locator beacons as well as boats, the organization has been credited with 22,000 rescues worldwide and more than 5,700 in the U.S. since its inception.

Alaska and Florida were tied for the most rescues this past year with 73 each, with 235 people overall rescued at sea, 30 from a downed aircraft, and 88 saved with help from their PLBs — the highest total since its operation began in 2003, according to the article.

Older emergency beacons that transmit on 121.5- and 243-megahertz frequencies will be phased out by Feb. 1, 2009, making the 406-megahertz beacons with Global Positioning System technology the standard, according to the release.

— Elizabeth Ellis