A new rescue drone was barely out of the box before it was put to use in a real rescue at Lennox Head on Thursday.
Two teenage boys were seen in distress about a kilometre north of the patrol area at Lennox Head.
The 17-year-old and 15-year-old boys were about 700 metres offshore in a swell of about 3 metres.
A member of the public reported seeing the boys, and within two minutes the new drone had located the boys and dropped an inflatable flotation device to them.
The boys clung to the rescue pod and were able to swim to shore.
Surf Life Saving NSW said the boys were exhausted but unharmed.
The rescue drones were only unveiled at Lennox Head Thursday morning, as part of a collaboration between Surf Life Saving NSW and the State Government.
The Government announced last month it would invest $430,000 in drone technology as part of a trial on the NSW north coast.
Deputy Premier John Barilaro said that investment had paid off when the technology was used in the dramatic rescue.
“This is a world-first rescue,” he said.
“Never before has a drone fitted with a flotation device been used to rescue swimmers like this.”
Fast response time critical
Ballina lifeguard supervisor Jai Sheridan, who operated the drone, said being part of the operation had been “unreal”.
“I’m just so happy that it was a really good outcome and these two boys were able to make it to shore safely,” he said.
“Between taking off and spotting the swimmers and then deploying the flotation device, it took us only about 70 seconds.”
Mr Sheridan said the difference in response time was critical.
“Stuff can happen in a matter of seconds out in the surf. It’s ever changing.”
Drones give lifesavers eyes in the sky
Surf Life Saving NSW project manager for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), Kelvin Morton, said the project was a world-first.
“There is no other lifesaving operation or organisation worldwide that is doing what we’re doing on the size and scale that we’re doing it,” he said.
“These UAVs that we’re using to drop these inflatable pods is innovative, and we know that most or all of the lifesaving organisations around the world are stepping back and waiting to see how this goes.”
Mr Morton said the drones gave surf lifesavers a new advantage.
“It gives them eyes across the water at a height of 60 metres and they can move at 50 kilometres an hour,” he said.
“They’ve never had that ability before. They can see things in the water that a jet-ski simply cannot.”
The NSW north coast trial finishes at the end of April.
Surf Life Saving NSW will then assess a roll-out of the project across the state.