WATER police used a drone to find two tourists lost for hours in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park on Sunday.
A 32-year-old German man and a woman, 24, from Hong Kong got disorientated after setting off from West Head Rd at 1pm to walk the Bairne Track, a popular route to the water.
But when the pair raised the alarm by dialling 000, it was difficult for paramedics and police to pinpoint their exact location.
At 8.15pm, a water police officer launched Eagle 3 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) — a Phantom 3 Pro drone — over the area and the exhausted bushwalkers flashed their mobile phone torch at it.
Their short daylight walk had turned into an eight-hour ordeal by the time they were rescued at 9.15pm.
“Both admitted that they underestimated the harsh Australian bushland,” said Broken Bay water police commander detective Senior Sergeant Chris Morgan.
Sen-Sgt Morgan said it was the first time Broken Bay water police had used a UAV for a search but they regularly used it along the water’s edge at the foot of hard-to-access headlands to check if rock fishermen were wearing life jackets.
“It’s much more efficient to use a UAV than to deploy a police vessel all the way from Church Point to somewhere like Dee Why Head,” he said. “We’ve had it six months but we don’t use it daily — it’s not a toy.”
The tourists’ drama began when, after reaching Coasters Retreat, they walked along the west water’s edge and then inland through dense bushland.
Due to regular burn-offs, the grass and scrub was low near the houses at Coasters Retreat but got thicker as the pair progressed on their 8km journey.
Sen-Sgt Morgan said the tourists called 000 but “due to poor mobile coverage and a language barrier, only basic co-ordinates were retrieved”.
Police set up a command post on West Head Rd, accompanied by paramedics while water police went to the scene by boat.
But it was soon realised there would be more success finding the lost pair using a drone they keep at the base, which they took to West Head Rd.
The tourists were able to spot the drone’s flashing lights and shone a torch at it, allowing police and paramedics to locate them and walk them to safety at 9.15pm.
They were assessed by paramedics and treated for mild dehydration and a few scratches. They were then allowed to leave.