Rescued pair never activated EPIRB: Coast Guard

By on 31 October, 2017

A personal Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB). Photo: US Coast Guard.

Two women rescued by the US Navy after allegedly being lost at sea for five months had an unused EPIRB on board.

The remarkable story of two women rescued from their stricken sailboat about 1500 km southeast of Japan has taken a surreal turn. The stranded pair, rescued in good health on October 25 along with two dogs, had six different kinds of communication technologies on board — including an EPIRB that was registered and functional but never activated, according to an Associated Press report.

Initial reporting of the case described repeated distress calls and relief at their rescue; shark attacks and freak storms — but recent media statements project a more relaxed approach to their predicament.

“We asked why during this course of time did they not activate the EPIRB. She had stated they never felt like they were truly in distress, like in a 24-hour period they were going to die,” Coast Guard spokeswoman Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle told Associated Press.

This puzzling revelation joins a host of emerging inconsistencies, such as their accounts of the storms that damaged the mast and rigging of their sailboat on May 3, which have been contradicted by the National Weather Service in Honolulu, and archived NASA satellite imagery. The pair also decided not to birth their damaged vessel at Christmas Island when they had the chance, but set a new waypoint for the Cook Islands, a destination further than their originally intended destination of Tahiti, according to Associated Press.

Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs) are considered basic maritime equipment, legally required by the US Coast Guard for uninspected passenger vessels capable of carrying more than six people, and uninspected commercial vessels. Most Australian states and territories require the majority of boats travelling more than two nautical miles from land to carry an EPIRB.

EPIRBs are part of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) typically use the COSPAR-SARSAT search and rescue network, operating on 406.025 MHz and 121.5 MHz bands, and most variants produced after 1998 use GPS positioning. Beacons operating on 406 MHz transmit a unique 15, 22, or 30 character hex code. Registration is typically legally mandated, and activation of a registered EPIRB provides Search and Rescue agencies with crucial information such as: phone numbers to call, a description of the vessel, aircraft, or vehicle, and the home port of a vessel or aircraft. GPS-equipped variants also provide more accurate positioning data than earlier models.

These new details suggest that the duo may have had no intention of cutting short their voyage despite the damage to their vessel.


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