Helping validate the more than $430,000 investment in drone technology by the New South Wales government last December, the first reported drone rescue at sea took place just this week in Australia.
According to media reports, a bystander saw two male swimmers, aged 16 and 17 having trouble off the coast of Lennox Head, near Byron Bay in northern NSW and called the lifeguards for help. 2017 NSW Lifeguard of the Year, Jai Sheridan, made a quick decision to put a newly-implemented lifeguard drone into the air to initiate the rescue.
Using the drone called ‘Little Ripper’, Sheridan was able to not only identify the location of the swimmers, but also remotely drop a rescue pod into the water. The Ripper took just over a minute to travel the 1 km distance from the lifeguards to the swimmers, where the dropped pod expanded in the water, enabling both swimmers to reach the device and hang on to keep afloat. Both swimmers were able to use the pod to make their way to shore without injury, where they were met by lifeguards from Lennox Head who had raced to the scene.
“This is a world first rescue,” Deputy Premier John Barilaro said, per news.com.au.
“Never before has a drone, fitted with a flotation device been used to rescue swimmers like this.
“It’s quite incredible to see that the NSW Government’s investment in this technology has already resulted in two people having their lives saved,” he said.
With a real-life rescue now having been logged using the drone, the possibility of using the technology for competing open water swimming appears to be within reach. Not only could drone technology keep a watchful eye on swimmers from a greater vantage point than, say, a kayak, the device may be able to reach a struggling open water swimmer with greater speed.