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Australian Safety Beacon System
Improves Outback Security

 Here’s a bit of news that may interest anyone who has to do 4WD-ing in the great Australian outback. It was passed on to me back in 1996 soon after we opened our site:

The Royal Flying Doctor Service’s mantle of safety over outback Australia is about to go high-tech with the addition of emergency locator beacon homing devices on all its aircraft.
The devices, which were obtained through a $48,000 grant from Australia’s largest insurance company AMP, will allow the aircraft to home in on radio signals from the beacons and accurately position aircraft, ships or even vehicles in distress.

RFDS general manager Roger Wellington said that equipping their aircraft with ELB homing devices would greatly enhance search and rescue capability - to such an extent that the RFDS will now become a major provider of search and rescue services in the outback.

"We have eight aircraft on call 24-hours-a-day at bases in Cairns, Rockhampton, Brisbane, Charleville and Mt Isa," Mr Wellington said. "Should an RFDS aircraft locate a distress signal, they have the potential to land on the nearest serviceable landing area and could feasibly be the first medical personnel at the scene of an accident."

Airservices Australia Civil Search and Rescue Unit co-ordinator Peter Horton said that the beacon devices have a range of about 240km but were complemented by a satellite tracking system. Aircraft could be sent to a search area after a distress signal was received by satellites (which passed over Australia every two hours) and provide a search location.

All vessels operating more than two nautical miles offshore in Australia are already required to fit the ELBs, as are most aircraft. The units are also becoming popular with people driving four wheel drives to remote areas. 



More Info On Safety Beacons

Shortly after I originally ran the news clipping (above) on this site I received an excellent email from Darryl Hinnon at the MRCC in Canberra (the people who co-ordinated the dramatic lone yachtsman sea rescue in 1997) which provided some useful extra information about these beacons. Here’s what he had to say:


I’m just at the end of a long night shift in the Maritime Rescue Coordination Center (MRCC) in Canberra and right beside my desk are the computers which process the satellite detections of these beacons (luckily, the only one we’ve detected tonight was at Darwin airport!).

Many 4WD-ers are now taking beacons with them on trips and to keep the system free of false alerts we advise that the beacon be checked regularly in case it’s been jolted or in case young Johnny has found the "on" switch. This is important because it’s not inconceivable that the police - who are responsible for land search-and-rescue operations - could attempt to recover the costs involved in tracking down the source of a false alert.

Some companies who have workers such as geologists working in remote areas are also equipping them with beacons. In many cases these are the newer (and more expensive) Personal Locater Beacon. Their big advantage is that they have an identity encoded in the signal so that we can identify who it belongs to and immediately ring the company contact with the details. 

- Darryl Hinnon

Thankyou again for sending this in, Darryl. Food for thought if you’re going to use one, isn’t it?

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