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When Daniel Trollope first found himself in a wheelchair he thought his life was over.

A devastating few seconds underwater in a fateful scuba diving course meant he would never achieve his dreams. In an instant, his hopes of becoming a helicopter pilot or a police diver were replaced by fears of lengthy settlement proceedings and a life confined to a chair.

He was 18 … and that was 15 years, or rather, a lifetime ago.

The freak case of decompression illness (the bends) left Daniel paralysed from the sternum down. But now, against all odds, technology and the willpower to be his best has enabled the 34-year-old The Southport School sports administrator to combine his passion of aviation and his dream of saving lives.

Having started commercial drone flying company Drone Bros with his brother Ben, 32, and father two years ago, Daniel now pilots Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to save lives and prevent tragedies in the surf through the Westpac Little Ripper Australian Surf Life Saving organisation.

“I started flying drones a couple of years ago now,” the Burleigh resident said.

“(My dad, brother and I) all just had this common interest in flying drones and they look pretty cool so we started up a business called Drone Bros.

“And then things just snowballed.

“It’s doing something that I never thought would be a door open to me. I always wanted to fly helicopters but without the use of my legs that was never going to happen.

“You have dark days, everyone does I guess, but to be honest the only thing I’ve ever wanted was to help people.

“I never thought I’d be able to call myself a surf lifesaver, and I guess I’m still not in the traditional sense, but it feels great to be able to help out.

Daniel Trollope with wife Holly Nixon is about to become the country's first paraplegic surf lifesaver — flying drones which drop shark bombs and life rafts. Photo Mark Cranitch
Daniel Trollope with wife Holly Nixon is about to become the country’s first paraplegic surf lifesaver — flying drones which drop shark bombs and life rafts. Photo Mark Cranitch

The ‘Little Ripper’ UAVs each cost about $250,000 and are equipped with the ability to aid surf lifesavers in patrols and rescue missions. The drone has a built-in loudspeaker and the capacity to drop a 4m inflatable device that incorporates a shark repellent and can keep several people afloat for hours.

Daniel, a husband and stepfather of three teenagers, now works fulltime as Little Ripper Rescue’s chief operations officer — a position he has held since early this year. Since launching, Daniel and Ben have regularly used the Little Ripper in shark patrols in northern NSW. This followed the shark attack on 17-year-old Cooper Allen who was mauled while surfing at Lighthouse beach in Ballina in September.

Daniel said the technology enabled him to live out the dreams he thought were dashed as an 18-year-old. Daniel’s brother Ben used to work as an air crewman for CareFlight, a helicopter rescue association now known as LifeFlight. He said his move to embrace new drone technology was a career decision.

Daniel still only has half the control over his body that he had when he was a star rugby union player at boarding school TSS. But ask his little brother Ben and he’ll tell you Daniel is twice the man he was before his accident.

“You talk to a lot of guys in chairs and ask them if they had the opportunity to get up and walk, would they? “A lot of them would knock it back and say — hell no, I’m more successful in my chair than I ever would have been out of it.”

Ben said rather than hampering his ability to fly, his brother’s disability perhaps made him a better drone pilot.

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