Two northern NSW teenagers today became the first swimmers worldwide to be rescued from dangerous surf conditions by lifesaving drone technology.
Gabe Vidler and Monty Greeslade, both 17, were body surfing in the ocean at Lennox Beach, north of Ballina, at about 11.30am when they began to struggle with a strong rip and 2.5-metre waves.
After their friends alerted lifeguards on the shore, the Westpac Little Ripper UAV was deployed within 35 seconds and hovered over the two teenagers before dropping an inflatable lifesaving pod into the water.
Gabe Vidler and Monty Greeslade, 17, became stuck in a rip at Lennox Beach before needing to be rescued today (Supplied).
The pod, which is designed to inflate when it hits water and extends into a three-metre long tube-shaped flotation device, then carried the swimmers on the waves back to shore.
Eddie Bennet, CEO of the Westpac Little Ripper group, told 9NEWS the drone technology – which has been in development for three years and patrolled parts of NSW for the past two years – “is the new generation of rescue services”.
“The Westpac Little Ripper’s rescue today of the two young body surfers, in 2.5-metre dangerous swell, clearly illustrates the benefit of this cutting edge technology in such a time critical emergency situation,” he said in a statement.
“It works and Australia is leading the world in this technology.”
Jai Sheridan, the lifeguard supervisor and drone operator on-duty during the rescue, also said in a statement that the event proved the efficiency of the technology.
“The Little Ripper UAV certainly proved itself today it is an amazingly efficient piece of lifesaving equipment and a delight to fly,” he said.
“I was able to launch it, fly it to the location, and drop the pod all in about one to two minutes.”
The rescue comes as Minister for Regional NSW John Barilaro and Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair announced in December an additional $430,000 of funding for the drone initiative as part of a trial to expand patrols into the state’s far north.
Today, Mr Blair said it was evident that the investment had paid off.
“This is a world first rescue… never before has a drone, fitted with a flotation device, been used to rescue swimmers like this,” he said in a statement.
“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.”
Both teenagers suffered no injuries in the incident.