On Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) reported that the COSPAS-SARSAT system contributed to more than 300 successful rescues in America last year.
COSPAS-SARSAT is the international satellite system that receives EPIRB distress signals. An activated EPIRB sends a distress message to the satellite constellation, which forwards it to the authorities via a ground station. On modern transmitters the message is encoded with a registration number and the GPS latitude and longitude of the sender.
In the U.S., EPIRB distress signals go to NOAA’s SARSAT Mission Control Center in Suitland, Maryland. Signals on land are forwarded to the Air Force, and typically passed on to local authorities. Signals at sea or on the water are forwarded the Coast Guard.
In 2016, the system assisted in 205 waterborne rescues, 79 rescues on shore and an additional 23 rescues resulting from an aviation incident. The biggest EPIRB-assisted rescue of the year was the response to the sinking of the Alaska Juris. First responders saved 46 fishermen from the Juris – the largest SAR success story in the history of NOAA's COSPAS-SARSAT operations.
Other highlights of 2016 included the rescue of two South Carolina Air National Guard F-16 pilots who ejected from their aircraft after a mid-air explosion. Their seats were equipped with EPIRB units that activated automatically. Both pilots were recovered uninjured.
"On any given day, at any given time, NOAA satellites can play a direct role in saving lives,” said Chris O’Connors, NOAA SARSAT program manager. “These rescues underscore SARSAT’s true value.”
Since the program’s inception in 1982, COSPAS-SARSAT has been credited with supporting more than 41,000 rescues worldwide, including more than 8,000 in the United States and its surrounding waters. NOAA's EPIRB registry includes over 500,000 entries for beacons used by private citizens, merchant vessels, personal watercraft, commercial airplanes, military units and other users.