Over the past two centuries, how the Coast Guard locates distressed mariners has evolved. In times past, sailors could only send signals themselves to alert the U.S. Life-Saving Service and lighthouse keepers ashore. Today, search and rescue command centers can locate people hundreds of miles from shore with the technology of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration global satellite system. This global system, now in its 29th year, has been credited with assisting in more than 28,000 rescues worldwide.
In 2010 NOAA’s Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking System assisted in the rescue of 295 people from life-threatening situations in the United States alone. NOAA satellites alerted rescuers across the nation to respond to the full gamut of emergencies, from a sinking vessel or missing kayaker to a downed plane or trapped hiker. Of the 295 people who were saved as a result of NOAA satellites, Alaska had the most people rescued with 77 lives saved, followed by Florida with 37 and West Virginia with 17.
Here are just a few of the notable cases NOAA SARSAT assisted in during 2010:
– In a joint Coast Guard-Navy operation, a man was rescued from his capsized boat, 250 miles off of Cape Hatteras, N.C.
– A man’s car veered off a snowy Colorado road in a blizzard and became stuck. With no cell phone signal, his personal locator beacon was the only way to contact authorities for help.
– Two people with a seven-member dog team were aboard a helicopter that crashed in Alaska. All lives were saved.
While the SARSAT system remains an asset to the Coast Guard, NOAA’s satellites work in conjunction with Russia’s COSPAS spacecraft, as part of a global search and rescue system, commonly referred to as COSPAS-SARSAT. The number of total international rescues for 2010 will be released later this year, including the rescue of Abby Sunderland, a California teen attempting to set a new record for youngest solo sail around the world who activated her emergency beacon when a storm left her boat adrift in the southern Indian Ocean.