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OHIO MAN SAVED BY USING PERSONAL LOCATOR BEACON
First Person to Use New Technology in the Contiguous United States

NOAA image of Cospas-Sarsat system overview.Nov. 17, 2003 — A Cleveland, Ohio, man was rescued by the U.S. Army Fort Drum Air Ambulance Detachment outside of Watertown, N.Y., Friday through the help of a personal locator beacon or PLB. This rescue was the first using PLB technology since they became available for use in the U.S., July 1, 2003. (Click NOAA image for larger view of Cospas-Sarsat system overview.)

Carl Skalak, 55, was in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York when he activated his PLB. At 10:45 a.m. EST, personnel at the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC), at Langley Air Force Base, Va., were notified of the distress call via the Search and Rescue Satellite Aid Tracking System (SARSAT), operated by NOAA. The AFRCC notifies the appropriate state emergency rescue agency in the area where the PLB was activated.

According to Lt. Daniel Karlson, SARSAT operations support officer for NOAA, “The system worked like a gem.” Mr. Skalak decided to activate his PLB after he realized he was facing a life-threatening situation because of his isolated conditions and the brutally frigid weather. “In a matter of a few hours, Mr. Skalak might have become acutely hypothermic putting his life at risk,” Karlson explained. “Since he had properly registered his PLB, we were able to immediately confirm his whereabouts and set the wheels in motion for his rescue.”

“This was a team effort between NOAA and the AFRCC from the beginning to bring the system to fruition in the U.S.,” said Lt. Col. Morgan. “Working together, we have been able to establish a system that allows for a quicker response by emergency personnel and will hopefully help save lives in the future.”

Prior to July, PLBs had only been available for use in Alaska under a test program to evaluate their usefulness in search and rescue. The success seen in Alaska paved the way for the technology to be used throughout the rest of the nation. “This particular rescue demonstrates how well our agencies work together when it comes to saving a life,” said Ajay Mehta, the NOAA SARSAT program manager.

PLBs send out digital distress signals on the 406-megahertz frequency, which are detected by the NOAA Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) and Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellites (POES). GOES, the first to detect a beacon’s distress signal, hover in a fixed orbit above Earth and receive the signals, which contain registration information about the beacon and its owner. The POES constantly circle the globe, enabling them to capture and accurately locate the alerts to within a few miles. The satellites are part of the worldwide satellite search and rescue system called, COSPAS-SARSAT. The COSPAS-SARSAT system is a cluster of NOAA and Russian satellites that work together to detect distress signals anywhere in the world transmitted from PLBs and from beacons carried aboard ships and airplanes.

The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center acts as the single federal agency for coordinating search and rescue missions in the inland regions of the 48 contiguous states.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nationís coastal and marine resources. NOAA is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Relevant Web Sites
NOAA’s Role in the Cospas-Sarsat Program

NOAA Satellites and Information

Personal Locator Beacons—Help From Above

International Cospas-Sarsat program

Media Contact:
John Leslie, NOAA Satellites and Information Service, (301) 457-5005