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Lennox Head on the state’s Far North Coast made history earlier this month when it became the scene of a dramatic rescue involving the Westpac Little Ripper UAV and Rescue Pod.

On January 17, lifeguards from the Australian Lifeguard Service were preparing for a familiarisation session with the UAV equipment that is forming a key part of a new partnership between the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and Surf Life Saving NSW, under the NSW Government’s $16m shark mitigation strategy, when a call came through about two distressed swimmers.

At about 11:30am, two men were swimming in powerful surf conditions about a kilometre north of the patrolled area when their partners noticed that they were having difficulty in the three metre swell.

Lifeguard Supervisor Jai Sheridan, the 2017 NSW Lifeguard of the Year, was piloting the UAV at the time and immediately responded and was able to locate the swimmers within minutes of the initial alert.

In a world-first real life situation, he dropped the rescue pod from the UAV to the swimmers, who were able to cling onto it and make their own way to shore where they were met by lifeguards from Lennox Head who had raced to the scene in a beach vehicle.

The pair were fortunately unharmed from their ordeal apart from showing signs of fatigue.

“The UAV technology certainly proved itself today. It is an amazingly efficient piece of lifesaving equipment and a delight to fly,” said Jai Sheridan.

“I was able to launch it, fly it to the location and drop the pod - all in about one or two minutes. On a normal day that would have taken our lifeguards a few minutes longer to reach the swimmers,” he said.

Little Ripper CEO, Eddie Bennet said the UAV technology and payload ability has been three intensive years in development to enable this world first rescue operation.

"The Westpac Little Ripper’s rescue today of the two young swimmers, in hazardous swell, clearly illustrates the benefit of this cutting edge technology in such a time critical emergency situation. It works and Australia is leading the world in this technology,” said Mr Bennet.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries was delighted that the UAV technology has proved itself in a rescue situation in addition to its function as a research tool to assist scientists researching marine activity off Northern NSW.

"We are excited the technology was successfully put into action and it's a great result following more than 18 months of trials that have explored how drones can be used for shark surveillance," said Department of Primary Industries Director of Fisheries Research, Dr Natalie Moltschaniwskyj

"The NSW Government has provided $ for this project this summer.

"Research conducted by DPI indicates drones will be an important tool for shark detection on our beaches, and it's great to see the benefits of our research working at Lennox Head," Dr Moltschaniwskyj said.


Wednesday 31 January 2018