CAP: ‘Don’t trash the beacon’

 - March 30, 2009, 5:12 AM

In an effort to cut down on the more than 2,000 false distress signals it receives each year from emergency locator transmitters (ELT) and emergency position indicating radio beacons, the Civil Air Patrol has launched its “Don’t Trash the Beacon” public awareness campaign. “The false-alarm rate is between 90- and 95-percent now,” said John Demarais, CAP’s deputy director for operations.

The problem stems mainly from improper handling of the units, which are now being rendered obsolete, as users upgrade from 121.5-MHz analog beacons to the more powerful, more reliable 406-MHz digital transmitters.

If beacon owners fail to remove batteries or otherwise deactivate the units, the beacons could later begin emitting distress signals, spurring authorities to mount a search. “I have been on several [searches] where folks were shipping a beacon back to the manufacturer, because they thought it was not working. They put it in a box with live batteries and we tracked it to a UPS or FedEx warehouse,” Demarais said.
While the International Cospas-Sarsat Program, which uses a satellite constellation to relay distress alerts to search-and-rescue authorities, ended satellite processing of distress signals from 121.5- /243-MHz emergency beacons at the be-ginning of February, CAP and others will continue to monitor the frequencies for the near future.