Weather satellites can detect distress signals, too

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s seven weather satellites don’t just collect images and data valuable for forecasting weather.

They also carry instruments that can detect distress signals from emergency beacons carried by downed pilots, shipwrecked boaters and stranded hikers. The satellites, which are part of the international Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking System, can pinpoint the distress signal’s location to within 100 yards, said Chris O’Connors, program manager for NOAA SARSAT, in a prepared statement.

More than 250 people were rescued in 2012: 182 from the water, 22 from aviation incidents and 59 from land events. Alaska had the most rescues with 45. There were 38 in North Carolina and 25 in Florida.

Another 14 people were rescued from the tall ship HMS Bounty when it was caught in waves more than 200 miles off the North Carolina coast.

Since the program was started in 1982, Cospas-Sarsat has been credited with supporting more than 30,000 rescues worldwide, including 6,999 in the United States and its surrounding waters.