The dramatic rescue took place on Thursday, January 18, and represents the first application of drone technology to protect swimmers. Drones were initially introduced to coastal lifeguards when the NSW government pledged $16 million to a shark-mitigation strategy. But clearly, the drones have additional uses as well.
The two distressed swimmers managed to get a distress signal to NSW lifeguards, and it just so happened the supervisor Jai Sheridan (the 2017 NSW Lifeguard of the Year) was controlling the drone. Sheridan responded immediately, flying the unmanned aerial vehicle to the swimmers’ location within minutes, and deployed help. The drone dropped a flotation device into the water, helping the teenage swimmers.
“The Little Ripper UAV certainly proved itself today, it is an amazingly efficient piece of lifesaving equipment and a delight to fly,” Sheridan told the Morning Herald. “I was able to launch it, fly it to the location, and drop the pod all in about one to two minutes. On a normal day that would have taken our lifeguards a few minutes longer to reach the members of the public.”
In fact, reports suggest that the drone, in Sheridan’s expert hands, was able to complete the mission in just 70 seconds. A lifeguard, on the other hand, would likely require around six minutes to rescue swimmers in a similar situation.
The mission certainly serves as a proof point for the drone’s maker, Westpac Little Ripper. As the company’s CEO Eddie Bennet noted, the mission “clearly illustrates the benefit of this cutting-edge technology in such a time-critical emergency situation.” Just last month, the NSW government announced a $430,000 investment in drone technology as part of a trial on the north coast of the country. Now, it certainly seems as though that decision was a strategic one.
As Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW John Barilaro said, “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.”
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