In 2010, NOAA satellites were critical in the rescues of 295 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, along with Russia’s COSPAS spacecraft, 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.
Alaska had the most people rescued last year with 77, followed by Florida with 37, and West Virginia with 17, who were aboard a downed Army Reserve helicopter.
When a NOAA satellite finds the location of a distress signal within the United States or its surrounding waters, the information is relayed to the SARSAT Mission Control Center based at NOAA’s Satellite Operations Facility in Suitland, Md. From there, the information is quickly sent to a Rescue Coordination Center, operated by either the U.S. Air Force, for land rescues, or the U.S. Coast Guard, for water rescues.
Now in its 29th year, COSPAS-SARSAT has been credited with supporting more than 28,000 rescues worldwide, including more than 6,500 in the United States and its surrounding waters.
source: NOAA press release