2 struggling swimmers’ saved by a drone

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The rescue happened at 11.30am on Thursday morning as lifeguards were preparing for a drone training session.

Two teenage boys, aged 16 and 17, were spotted struggling in a three-metre swell around one kilometre north of the flags at Lennox Heads – and the drone, called The Little Ripper, was immediately put into action.

The drone pinpoints the location of the struggling swimmers. Source: SLSNSW/Little Ripper Group/NSW DPI

Lifeguard supervisor Jai Sheridan piloted the drone towards the swimmers, pinpointing their exact location so a rescue pod could be dropped into the water.

The rescue pod then expanded, allowing both swimmers to reach it and grab hold of the device to help them stay afloat.

Both swimmers then used the pod to make their way to shore, where they were met by Lennox Heads lifeguards.

In December 2017 the NSW Government announced it would invest $430,000 in drone technology as part of a trial on the North Coast.

Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW John Barilaro called Thursday’s rescue a “world first.”

The drone drops the rescue pod into the water. Source: SLSNSW/Little Ripper Group/NSW DPI

“Never before has a drone fitted with a flotation device been used to rescue swimmers like this,” he said.

“It’s quite incredible to see the [NSW Government’s] investment in this technology has already resulted in two people having their lives saved.”

Both men were fatigued but had escaped injury.

The pod inflates, the swimmers grab onto it, and the drone guides them back to shore. Source: SLSNSW/Little Ripper Group/NSW DPI

“It took only 70 seconds from when The Little Ripper drone was launched to when it dropped the pod into the ocean for the rescue, a task that would usually take a lifeguard up to six minutes to complete,” Parliamentary Secretary for Northern NSW, Ben Franklin, said.

“This was an extraordinary rescue with the very best possible outcome.”


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