More details are emerging on what happened Sunday afternoon near New Orleans, Louisiana, when a helicopter crashed in a bayou, killing eight people and injuring another passenger.
U.S. Air Force representatives said that with its crew unable to call for help, a small radio beacon automatically notified rescuers, but apparently it is not very widely used. A satellite in space alerted rescuers to a possible crash and helped pinpoint its location. A Coast Guard helicopter reportedly arrived at the remote site and airlifted the lone survivor to a hospital.
The USA Today reports that the U.S. government has announced that it will no longer listen for distress calls on older beacons starting Feb. 1, and more than 85 percent of private planes do not carry the improved beacons. The price for the newer beacon is said to be around $2,000 to $4,000.
Congress first passed a law in 1970 after several well-publicized cases of lost planes, including the son of a congressman from Alaska crashed in a remote section of that state and no trace of the plane was ever found. But it was reported that even football stadium scoreboards could trigger false alarms with the devices.
The newer versions of the emergency digital beacons are part of two decades of work by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other agencies that reportedly attempt to better pinpoint a distress signal’s location and have attempted to minimize false alarms by moving to a second frequency. http://www.sarsat.noaa.gov/faq.html#about_beacons
The Coast Guard required the new beacons on commercial vessels in 2007. Pilot lobbyists reportedly were able to dissuade Congress in 2000 from requiring the new beacons on aircraft.
The USA Today reports that 30,000 pilots have registered the new beacons with the NOAA; however, that figure reportedly represents fewer than 15 percent of the 220,000 private aircraft in the country.