NSW: Dumped distress beacon sparks costly search
14 May 2009 3:22 PM
SYDNEY, May 14 AAP - Taxpayers will foot the bill for a costly search and rescue operation in central NSW that turned out to be a false alarm, an Ambulance Service spokeswoman says.
The $50,000 expedition began when an outdated distress beacon was activated on Wednesday after being dumped at a Cobar rubbish tip.
A passing aircraft picked up the signal, contacted the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) and the Ambulance Service of NSW dispatched its rescue helicopter from Orange.
"The mission took the Ambulance helicopter six hours, with the beacon eventually located in a local tip," the spokeswoman said.
"It is believed the beacon was unintentionally activated when it was discarded.
"The beacon was an older model, most probably discarded by an owner who didn't realise that it was still active and could be detected by an aircraft."
Every beacon activation is treated as a distress call and the chopper, carrying an ambulance paramedic, doctor, crewman and pilot, searched the area with the assistance of a fixed-wing aircraft until the beacon was found.
The mission cost some $50,000, for which the NSW Ambulance Service will bill the AMSA, a federal government authority.
Signals from old analogue beacons, such as the one found at Cobar, cannot be detected by satellites used for contemporary digital beacons, but aircraft in close proximity still receive signals from them.
The Ambulance Service is asking the community to dispose of analogue beacons free of charge at any Battery World outlet and is encouraging the use of digital locator beacons.
Presenting findings on the death of teenage bushwalker David Iredale last week, a NSW coroner recommended the promotion of personal locator beacons, which can pinpoint the position of a person in distress when activated.
David, 17, was not carrying a beacon and died from dehydration while trekking in the Blue Mountains in December 2006.