16
Sep

Surf Life Saving Central Coast will be one of just two branches in Australia to use drones for search, rescue and surveillance operations­ this summer.

Successful applicants from the Central Coast and Sydney branches will be trained as drone operators in Sydney this weekend to ensure they will be ready to hit the ground running when the lifesaving season starts on September 24.

Central Coast director of lifesaving Brett Beswick said the initiative was “pretty exciting”.

The drones will be used for both preventive and reactive purposes, including large-scale search and rescue exercises and surveillance at high-risk drowning black spots during peak times.

They will also be used at the start of junior surf carnivals to ensure the water is clear and will be used as an added resource to check for sharks after potential sightings by members of the public or lifesavers.

Drone operators James Irwin, Chris Fillingham, Matias Trewhela and Brett Beswick show off their new hardware at Terrigal Beach this week. Picture: Mark Scott
Drone operators James Irwin, Chris Fillingham, Matias Trewhela and Brett Beswick show off their new hardware at Terrigal Beach this week. Picture: Mark Scott

The drones will be particularly useful at the notoriously dangerous Munmorah State Conservation Area where volunteer lifesavers have spent days searching for missing rock fishers in recent years. The drones will be able to fly in alongside the rock face and find people a lot quicker. The branch is starting the service with off-the-shelf model drones, but eventually will be provided with a custom-built drone with a built-in PA system and ability to drop a flotation device and defibrillator in hard-to-reach locations.

Former military and air force personnel are among the Central Coast-based surf lifesavers being trained as drone operators.

Matias Trewhela, from the North Avoca club, was a fighter pilot in the Chilean air force and said the benefit of using drones across Central Coast beaches would be immense.

Umina Beach’s James Irwin spent 10 years in the military as a combat engineer, where drones and robots were used for surveillance.

Chris Fillingham, who is with Toowoon Bay and The Entrance, said he was impressed with the drones’ wide field of view.

“You get to see exactly what’s there without putting people in danger,” he said.

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