In 2011, NOAA satellites were critical in the rescues of 207 people from life-threatening situations throughout the United States and its surrounding waters. The satellites picked up distress signals from emergency beacons carried by downed pilots, shipwrecked boaters and stranded hikers, and relayed the information about their location to first responders on the ground.
NOAA’s polar-orbiting and geostationary satellites are part of the international Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking System, called COSPAS-SARSAT. This system uses a network of satellites to quickly detect and locate distress signals from emergency beacons onboard aircraft and boats, and from smaller, handheld personal locator beacons called PLBs.
Of the 207 saves last year, 122 people were rescued from the water, 14 from aviation incidents, and 71 in land situations where they used their PLBs. Other rescue highlights from the year include:
• Alaska had the most people rescued on land last year with 39, followed by Florida with 11, and California with 8.
• In the pitch of night, two people were rescued from a life raft after their boat sank 140 miles off the coast of Marco Island, Fla.