MEOSAR Becomes a Reality


McMurdo Makes MEOSAR a Reality: The First Save

Blog - MEOSAR Becomes Reality (Don Stevens)
Don Stevens in his hospital bed in Masterton. PHOTO/ANDREW BONALLACK

You’re backpacking alone in rugged terrain. You fall more than 90 feet, break one of your legs and can’t walk.  Even your cooking pot is mangled.  What’s the best thing you can hope for?

For New Zealand’s Don Stevens, it was the distress signal from his personal locator beacon (PLB) relayed by the next-generation MEOSAR satellite system to Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand in only four minutes—50 minutes sooner than if the existing system picked up the same distress signal.

McMurdo was instrumental in all phases of the rescue from the McMurdo FastFind 220 PLB to the McMurdo MEOSAR satellite ground stations to the McMurdo Mission Control and Rescue Coordination Centre systems.

Faster Speed and Accuracy

The new search and rescue satellite system covering New Zealand had only been operating in test mode for three days when Don Stevens activated his PLB.  Yet this next generation system is already demonstrating the significant impact it will have on the speed and accuracy of locating people in distress.

According to Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand Manager Mike Hill, “The extra time created by receiving the signal faster was invaluable, and potentially lifesaving.  It meant we could get the search operation underway earlier, and that made all the difference with the limited daylight hours that are available at this time of year.”

McMurdo completed the installation of a six-antenna MEOSAR satellite ground station system in New Zealand in late 2015, the first implementation of MEOSAR in Asia Pacific.  The project, which was part of a joint initiative with Maritime New Zealand and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, was expected to significantly boost search and rescue capability in the New Zealand and Australia search regions.

New Zealand MEOSAR Ground Station Installation
New Zealand MEOSAR Ground Station Installation

One of the Largest Search and Rescue Areas in the World

The New Zealand MEOSAR system, and another installed in Western Australia, cover one of the largest search and rescue areas in the world – from north of Australia/New Zealand to the Equator and south to the South Pole, east to half way across the Pacific, and west half way across the Indian Ocean. The systems are currently undergoing rigorous testing before being officially brought online in late 2017 by Cospas-Sarsat.

There are 58,000 emergency distress beacons registered in New Zealand which, without any changes or updates, will be immediately usable by the new systems. It is estimated, however, that an additional 25,000 beacons are unregistered. Due to the high responsiveness of the MEOSAR system, search and rescue authorities strongly recommend beacon registration. This will help the unnecessary deployment of search and rescue resources due to inadvertent beacon activations. The Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand, part of Maritime New Zealand, responds to 550 beacon alerts a year.

MEOSAR Advantage Becoming Reality

In a typical satellite-based search and rescue scenario, ships, aircraft or individuals transmit distress signals from an emergency location beacon via satellite to a fixed ground receiving station or local user terminal. The ground station calculates the location of the distress situation and sends an alert to the appropriate rescue authorities. Today, the beacon-to-alert process depends on a limited number of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites and may take several hours before a position is confirmed. With MEOSAR, beacon signals will be received more quickly and beacon locations identified with greater accuracy thereby reducing this time to minutes.

"Beacons can take the 'search' out of search and rescue, and the MEOSAR system will dramatically increase the global search and rescue capability,” said Maritime New Zealand Director Keith Manch. "Emergency distress beacons are key equipment for anyone operating at sea, on land and in the air – whether commercially or recreationally – but they can't operate without sites like this.”

McMurdo continues its leadership in implementing MEOSAR systems around the world, and it is gratifying to see the tangible results of our work in New Zealand.  A gravely injured person was rescued from a life-threatening situation by activating a McMurdo PLB that was received by a McMurdo MEOSAR system.  Real people are being rescued with the help of MEOSAR, and McMurdo is very proud to be part of the many individuals and agencies who have worked tirelessly in the SAR industry to make the vision of MEOSAR become reality.

Over the coming days, weeks and months, we will be providing more information on MEOSAR including case studies, white papers, presentations, videos and other material.  To sign up to receive these MEOSAR tools, please email us at

More information about this MEOSAR rescue:

Featured Image Photo Credit: Carterton's Amalgamated Helicopters landed near Girdlestone to rescue the man (Wairarapa Times-Age)