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Drone delays helicopter rescue of a fisherman on Australia’s Gold Coast

Because of a nearby drone, rescuers had to wait an additional five minutes before they could perform a helicopter rescue to save an injured fisherman on Australia’s Gold Coast. The 76-year-old fisherman was stranded on the rocks of the seaway’s northern wall at South Stradbroke Island. His boat’s anchor had come loose and had washed ashore. Even though he was close to dry grounds he was unable to leave the boat safely.

Helicopter rescue delayed by drone

A Westpac Lifesaver rescue helicopter, that happens to be on the training exercise in the area had landed on the Seawall to observe the unfolding situation. Right before they planned to take off Tim Wilson spotted a drone hovering close by.

“We sighted a drone probably not more than 10 metres away from the helicopter, buzzing around filming everything that was going on,” he said. “So obviously it grounded us for a little while — we didn’t know where the operator was so we had to wait until they moved off before we could do anything.”

The fisherman had to wait an additional 5 minutes for the drone to leave the area. As he was waiting in his aluminum runabout he was battered by the waves.

Mr. Wilson said:

“He did get knocked around on the rocks a bit. We were lucky it wasn’t a life or death situation for him. A rescue that should have taken less than a couple of minutes made it last well over five minutes.”

The fisherman suffered cuts to his legs, and pre-existing hip problems meant an aerial evacuation was the only option to get him back to safety. Once he was safely on the ground again, he was taken to the Gold Coast University Hospital in a stable condition.

“He was in good spirits, a bit shaken around,” Mr. Wilson said.

Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) rules

According to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) rules regarding the use of recreational drones: “You must not fly your drone over or near an area affecting public safety or where emergency operations are underway [without prior approval].

Mr. Wilson mentioned that the helicopter crew was not prepared to risk a collision with the drone.

“We didn’t want to put anyone else in danger, plus ourselves in the helicopter, if it had have impacted with us,” he said. “Drones are quite small, smaller than two kilos … birds are small as well and they’ve taken down aircraft.”

Peter Gibson, a CASA spokesman said the incident was a close call for rescuers.

“This is an absolute textbook example of what not to do with your drone,” he said. It is your responsibility to keep your drone away from aircraft at all times.”He added that “In this case, a fine would have been in excess of $1,000,”

According to ABC News, the pilot of the drone involved has not been found.


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Avatar for Haye Kesteloo Haye Kesteloo

Haye Kesteloo is the Editor in Chief and Main Writer at DroneDJ, where he covers all drone related news and writes product reviews. He also contributes to the other sites in the 9to5Mac group such as; 9to5Mac, 9to5Google, 9to5Toys and Electrek. Haye can be reached at or @hayekesteloo