Lost on the trail? Satellite tracking system can help

lost on the trailGetting lost on the trail, injured during a climb or into some other unplanned situation can make a great day a lousy one really fast. Adventure travel often takes us to remote places and when accidents happen there might not be a 911 to call or close-by hospital to visit. On their own, travelers often have to make do with the resources at hand. Prepared for anything, some travelers pack registered locator beacons that can make the difference between life and death.

As an integral part of worldwide search and rescue, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) operates the Search And Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking (SARSAT) System to detect and locate travelers in distress almost anywhere in the world at anytime and in almost any condition.

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.

Easy to get, these PLB’s start at about $100, worth every penny if lost or stranded with no cell phone signal or help in sight. There are three types of beacons used to transmit distress signals, EPIRBs (for maritime use), ELTs (for aviation use), and PLBs (used for land-based applications).

In 2011, NOAA satellites were critical in the rescues of 207 people from life-threatening situations throughout the United States and its surrounding waters. 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.

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.
  • NOAA SARSAT played a critical role in the rescue of a group of student hikers from a grizzly bear attack in Alaska by directing first responders to the scene.
  • 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, Florida.
  • An elderly hiker was rescued 74 miles south of Colorado Springs, Colo., during a heavy snowstorm.

Thinking this might be a good idea for your next adventure? These devices must be registered first.

Register a PLB online or download a beacon registration form from the registration website and fax to (301) 568-8649 or call NOAA at 1-888-212-SAVE (7283).

Noaa Photo


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