An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) nicknamed “Little Ripper” deployed an emergency flotation device to save two struggling swimmers Wednesday, in what local authorities are calling the first ever drone surf rescue.
When a beachgoer alerted lifeguards to swimmers apparently caught in heavy surf off Australia’s Far North Coast, they were fortuitously piloting a rescue drone as part of a new equipment trial, NPR reports.
Responding to the alert, lifeguard supervisor Jai Sheridan hovered the drone about 2,3000 feet above the two boys and dropped a self-inflating yellow pod for them to grasp onto. The drone’s on-board camera recorded the sequence: from location, to drop, to the swimmers’ grateful journey to the shore.
“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,” Sheridan told Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald. “The Little Ripper UAV certainly proved itself today.”
The swimmers, 15 and 17, reportedly reached the shore fatigued but unharmed.
“The New South Wales Government’s investment in this technology has already resulted in two people having their lives saved,” local politician John Barilaro told the Herald. “Never before has a drone, fitted with a flotation device been used to rescue swimmers like this.”
See the rescue above.