05 Mar WESTPAC LITTLE RIPPER UAV/DRONE ACADEMY LAUNCH – PORT MACQUARIE
Sunday March 5
OUR lifesavers and lifeguards are already a bunch of superheroes — but now they are going to be able to literally fly to the rescue.
It’s all thanks to a first-of-its-kind drone academy that is set to transform the way our beaches are protected and save hundreds of lives.
The Westpac Little Ripper Training Academy, which is based in Port Macquarie, this week celebrated its first six lifeguard graduates from its remotely piloted aircraft system training organisation.
Port Macquarie lifeguard Toni Hurkett, 18, is the youngest and only female graduate and is particularly excited about plans to have the drones equipped with flotation devices that can be dropped to a person in trouble.
“This means we can assist someone in trouble sooner,” she said. “And they can be fitted with a lifejacket that can be dropped to a person in trouble.”
It also means that older and younger volunteers and those with mobility issues, who were previously unable to perform a rescue, can patrol beaches.
“I jumped at the chance, simply because you don’t get an opportunity like this every day,” she said. “This is great way for us to improve how we save lives.”
Central Coast Surf Life Saving volunteer Michael Lawton, 50, is the oldest person to graduate from the academy.
Mr Lawton said the drones will revolutionise how SLSNSW rescues people. “We are often on jet skis searching for someone on the water, so having that aerial support will speed up the process,” he said.
“This academy also gives people with a disability the opportunity to play a central role in rescues.”
In addition to assisting in rescues, the drones will be used for shark spotting, identifying rips and delivering safety messages to swimmers and surfers.
The Littler Ripper Training Academy has also started an in-school drone training program for high school students.
The qualifications can allow people to move into the commercial sector as pipeline inspectors or in wind farm maintenance. The academy delivers training in drone operation right up to university level diplomas.