See a lifeguard drone help rescue two young swimmers

A surf-patrolling drone designed to watch for sharks delivers a life-saving package to two distressed swimmers in Australia.

We're seeing an angry ocean from an eye in the sky. The waves crash and swirl, and two young men try to swim through the turbulence. This all happens in the opening moments of a dramatic video showing a first-of-its-kind, drone-aided rescue along the coast of New South Wales in Australia. 

Lifeguard group Surf Life Saving NSW posted the video on Twitter showing the view from its Little Ripper UAV as it locates two teenagers struggling in the surf and deploys an inflatable rescue pod for them to hang onto. They were able to get to shore under their own power while holding onto the pod.

"The pair were fortunately unharmed from their ordeal apart from showing signs of fatigue," Surf Life Saving says.

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The Little Ripper is part of an aerial surveillance program that uses flying drones to watch the waves for shark activity. The drones are equipped with technology that can spot sharks below the waves, and a built-in megaphone alerts swimmers to danger. The drone pilot can also visually monitor swimmers and look for signs of distress. The Little Ripper's droppable inflatable rescue pod can support up to four people if needed.

The rescue came about as lifeguards from the Australian Lifeguard Service prepared for a Little Ripper training session. Someone on the beach noticed the swimmers were having trouble with the strong waves and the training session quickly turned into a real-life situation.

"I was able to launch it, fly it to the location, and drop the pod all in about one to two minutes," said lifeguard supervisor Jai Sheridan, who piloted the drone. "On a normal day that would have taken our lifeguards a few minutes longer to reach the members of the public." 

The Westpac Little Ripper drones are being adopted around Australia. Surf Life Saving describes this week's rescue involving the inflatable as "a world first real-life situation."