Chapter 7. Search and Rescue (SAR) Procedures

Section 1. General

  1. The departure tie-in facility/sector is responsible for SAR action until the destination tie-in facility/sector acknowledges receipt of the flight notification message. SAR responsibility is then transferred to the destination tie-in facility/sector.


Tie-in facilities may include an FSS, Military BASOPS, foreign facilities, etc.

  1. The National SAR Plan assigns search and rescue responsibilities as follows:
  1. To the military agencies for conducting physical search and rescue operations.
  2. To the FAA for:
  1. Providing emergency service to aircraft in distress.
  2. Assuring that SAR procedures will be initiated if an aircraft becomes overdue or unreported. This is accomplished through the ATC system for IFR aircraft and the flight plan program and/or reports of overdue aircraft received at air traffic facilities for VFR aircraft.
  3. Attempting to locate overdue or unreported aircraft by information request (INREQ) and alert notice (ALNOT) communications search.
  4. Cooperating in the physical search by making all possible facilities available for use by the searching agencies.


The National SAR Plan is outlined in the AIM.

  1. FSSs serve as the central point for collecting and disseminating information on overdue or missing aircraft which are not on an IFR flight plan.
  2. ARTCCs serve as the central points for collecting information, coordinating with SAR, and conducting a communications search by distributing any necessary ALNOTs concerning:
  1. Overdue or missing IFR aircraft.
  2. Aircraft in an emergency situation occurring in their respective areas
  3. Aircraft on a combined VFR/IFR or an air-filed IFR flight plan, and 30 minutes have passed since the pilot requested IFR clearance, and neither communications nor radar contact can be established.
  4. Overdue or missing aircraft which have been authorized to operate in accordance with a SVFR clearance.
  1. The ARTCC serves as the contact point for collecting information and coordinating with the RCC on all ELT signals.

Consider an aircraft on a VFR or DVFR flight plan overdue:

  1. When it fails to arrive 30 minutes after its ETA and communications or location cannot be established.
  2. When notified by a commercially available tracking service, begin search and rescue activities most appropriate for the circumstances, i.e., a communications search followed by an ALNOT.

Consider an aircraft not on a flight plan as overdue:

  1. At the actual time a reliable source reports it to be at least 1 hour late at destination. Based on this overdue time, initiate a communications search and proceed directly to the ALNOT phase. When such a report is received, verify (if possible) that the aircraft actually departed and that the request is for a missing aircraft rather than a person. Refer missing person reports to the appropriate authorities.
  2. If you have reason to believe that an aircraft is overdue prior to 1 hour after its ETA, take the appropriate action immediately.


FAA Order JO 7110.10, Para 7-2-1, Communications Search.
FAA Order JO 7110.10, Para 7-4-1, ALNOT.