Drone technology used to locate and communicate with injured rock fisherman during cliff rescue - Eden

Published: 14 Apr 2023 01:38pm

Details have emerged about the extraordinary use of drone technology to rescue a seriously injured rock fisherman, reported missing after falling off a cliff at Eden, on the state’s far south coast earlier this month.

At 7.51am on Sunday 2 April, the Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) crew from Eden was involved in the search for the angler at The Lookout.

The man was fishing with three friends when he fell and landed on a ledge, 50-metres down the rocky, tapered cliff, badly breaking a leg.

A friend climbed down to get him and they both became trapped.

When emergency teams had trouble locating the men, the fire crew deployed its Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) 100 metres above the water and pin-pointed the pair, using the drone’s thermal imaging camera.

Rescuers were suddenly faced with another challenge. They quickly realised the fishermen could not speak English and were unable to outline the injured man’s condition.

Eden FRNSW Captain Zlatko Nemec then hatched a unique idea with NSW Ambulance paramedics.

They engaged an Ambulance service interpreter in Sydney to record a series of Chinese-language audio messages.

Around 540-kilometres away, the instructions and messages of reassurance were then uploaded to the drone, which flew to the rock ledge.

The messages were played to the distraught anglers over the drone’s loudspeaker and the fishermen responded with hand signals, captured by the RPAS camera system and relayed to the drone operator and Rescue teams via a visual display screen.

A Volunteer Rescue Association (VRA) vertical recovery team then abseiled down the cliff to stabilise the injured man, who was later airlifted by a Canberra Rescue helicopter and road ambulance to Bega Hospital.

“The technology was a god send,“ Captain Nemec recalled, “These drones are not only saving lives, they’re also reducing the risks facing first responders.

“In these types of rescues, we have to quickly assess the extent of injuries in order to keep the patients alive,” he said.

“In this case, the RPAS or drone has not only managed to locate two people in extraordinarily difficult terrain, it’s enabled us to communicate with them, halfway down a cliff-face.”

Eden was one of many regional FRNSW stations trained to use drones in April last year, as part of a rollout following the Black Summer Bushfire Inquiry.

The FRNSW technology is being used at more than two dozen regional and suburban stations across NSW for rescue incidents, major fires and hazmat incidents, missing person searches, Hazard Reduction mapping and Pre-Incident Planning.

It has also been used to support other Emergency Services at incidents and improve safety in communities across NSW.

Media note: An interview with Captain Nemec is available here: https://vimeo.com/817509775/e5c54d61a8 [external link]

B-roll footage of FRNSW RPAS use can be downloaded here: https://vimeo.com/741726055/8327b41ae8 [external link]

Updated: 14 Apr 2023 01:43pm

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Stations nearby

EDEN Fire Station

44 Hopkins Street, Eden NSW 2551

MERIMBULA Fire Station

17-19 Monaro Street, Merimbula NSW 2548

BEGA Fire Station

114 Gipps Street, Bega NSW 2550