AGL rescue helicopter pilot Dennis Branch with the offending EPIRB.
AGL rescue helicopter pilot Dennis Branch with the offending EPIRB. Max Fleet

False alarm sparks a $10K search

DENNIS Branch can think of at least 9858 reasons to hand in old and unused emergency beacons — because that is how many dollars were wasted when the AGL Action Rescue helicopter responded to a false alarm activation on Thursday night.

The AGL Action Rescue helicopter pilot said the EPRIB activation was only one of about 10 false alarms they have responded to this year.

Several pilots reported hearing the signal while flying over the Biloela area about 7.40pm, as the now-defunct 121.5hz EPIRB was broadcasting on the same frequency as aircraft.

The AGL Action Rescue crew flew from Bundaberg and spent two-and-a-half hours scanning the area, trying to narrow down its location.

“We landed at Thangool Airport (south of Biloela) and were conveyed by Biloela police for a land search,” Mr Branch said.

After tracking the signal with a handheld homing device, the crew determined it was transmitting from an isolated rubbish dump.

“We couldn’t find anyone who had keys to the landfill gate, so they had to climb the fence and trek about two kilometres through the dark to where the beacon was,” Mr Branch said.

Temperatures plummeted to just two degrees as it approached midnight, and the men were forced to walk through areas of thick scrub to reach the site.

But the search mission was not over yet — when they got to the dump and scanned the area, they discovered the EPIRB was buried under two metres of landfill.

“The airport reporting officer had to call around and get people out of bed until he could find someone who could get the keys to an excavator, which was used to dig up the landfill,” Mr Branch said.

The cost of the helicopter started at just under $10,000 but extra costs such as wages for the intensive care paramedic, the two police officers and the airport reporting officers means the total cost will soar by thousands.

Mr Branch said false alarm activations also put lives at risk.

“It meant we were out of the area for six-and-a-half hours, which would have caused a delay had there been another incident.”



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