Kevin Weldon (far right, back row) with the first graduates of the Little Ripper Training Academy this afternoon.
An Australian-first school that trains people to pilot drones for lifesaving purposes has been officially unveiled in Port Macquarie.
Six full time lifeguards – three of them from Port - and six volunteers have already been trained at the Little Ripper UAV training Academy, which is based out of Surf Lifesaving Mid North Coast’s building at Central Close.
“Little Rippers” are Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) produced by a private company founded two years ago by Kevin Weldon, president of the World Life Saving Movement and International Lifesaving Foundation.
Mr Weldon says they expect to deliver drone qualifications to 500 people through the Port Macquarie centre in the next year, from volunteers to full-time lifeguards, school students and people with disabilities.
“We’ll be concentrating on the full time lifeguards, because they’re there every day” Mr Weldon says.’
Mr Weldon also says he expects the centre to employ 100 people when in full swing.
There are currently 35 UAVs in Little Rippers’ fleet, which can carry cameras capable of producing high quality images, life rafts, life jackets and tracking devices.
Some of the drones to be used for safety patrols, shark spotting and rescues on the Mid North Coast (small white ones are training drones). pic.twitter.com/B4TiTx25kl— Alexander Darling (@SaveUrDarlings) February 28, 2017
James Turnham, Lifeguard Supervisor for Port Macquarie Hastings area, was one of the three local lifeguards to graduate from the Academy today.
“We’ve just had some exciting news that the Port Macquarie area will have access to a drone – so the lifeguards will be able to gain experience and be part of a trial,” Mr Turnham said.
“Obviously there’s a huge potential – it can assist in search and rescues in hard to reach areas such as cliffs, be able to spot rips and possibly save someone’s life by dropping a flotation device.”
Which beaches and how often the patrols will take place during the trial has not been specified.