Art Allen joined the Coast Guard in 1984 as a junior researcher. He spent the next 35 years trying to improve the Coast Guard's ability to save people lost at sea, in large part by studying drifting objects, which had barely been done before. But it wasn't until 2001 that he watched how their rescue operations worked in real time. A storm came in that night, and the Coast Guard was dispatched to multiple rescues, including a sailboat reported missing at the end of the shift. With scant information and a dearth of tools to calculate where the craft might be, the area to search was too large to locate the sailboat quickly.
And so the Coast Guard went looking for something without any real idea of where it was. The helicopters and an 87-foot cutter searched through the night, and found nothing. Not until the following morning did the sailboat appear, upside down, a long way from where the Coast Guard had been searching. A fishing boat spotted it. Two adults were in the water beside the boat, alive. A 42-year-old woman and her 9-year-old daughter, both wearing life vests, were taken off the hull. They’d gone hypothermic. A few hours later, at a local hospital, both were pronounced dead.
Art had stayed late into the night and seen all this unfold, in real time. “I watched this happen,” he said, rising from his dining room table. We’d been sitting there talking for maybe five hours before he’d thought to mention the incident. “These two were the same age as my wife and daughter,” said Art — and suddenly he was fighting back tears.
After that incident, Art Allen threw himself into developing a computer program that many people owe their lives to, even though they don't know it. Read Allen's fascinating story at Bloomberg. -via Metafilter