A dangerous sea crossing at night
The road of immigrants to Western Europe includes most of the time crossing the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece.
This crossing is probably the most dangerous stage of the long refugees trek and the growing number of victims, regularly reported by the medias, reinforces the extremely hazardous nature of this course.
The precarious ships used by the migrants are inadequate for this kind of use. They sail without any navigation lights and cross sea roads that are daily used by a huge number of freighters, which are unable to detect the refugees boats on their radar.
The collision risk is omnipresent and the old engines that these boats are equipped with may fail at any time. When such an incident occurs at sea, these old boats are abandoned to the waves and sea currents without any propulsion system. The risk of capsizing or collision increases then dramatically.
Most of these immigrants cannot swim, some are sick or disabled, some others are too old or too young for such a trip. The luckiest ones are usually equipped with very poor quality life jackets often unsuitable for their size (too large or poorly attached). The less fortunate have no flotation aid equipment at all.
The great majority of these crossings takes place at night, which makes these operations even more dangerous because of the darkness and the total lack of visibility.
The refugees do not really see where they are going or how much the current derives their boat. They are also totally invisible to other ships that navigate in the same area.
All that makes impossible for other ships to avoid them, but also to help them in case of capsizing.
Observe the sea from the UAV in order to alert on time the rescue services
Our OnyxStar FOX-C8 XT rescue drone equipped with a gyro-stabilized gimbal embeds two cameras with zoom, one HD for day use (30X zoom) and one infrared (8X zoom) for night vision. This UAV is an indispensable tool for the Greek rescuers who are on a permanent alert state on the beaches in front of Turkey.
With the aim to demonstrate the great potential of this drone system and while supporting the SAR operations, AltiGator team operated alongside with the rescuers of the Hellenic Rescue Team on the island of Kos.
At a flying height of 50 to 100 meters above sea level, our OnyxStar FOX-C8 XT rescue drone offers an amazing view of the beach and the part of the Aegean Sea, borrowed by the immigrants, that lays between the Greek islands and the Turkish coasts.
The 30X zoom HD camera allows the Search And Rescue teams to easily locate the freighters and the coastguard ships that crisscross the narrow channel between the island of Kos and Turkey, thanks to their navigation lights.
The camera operator can turn the gimbal on 360 degrees which allows him to easily scan a large part of the sea.
Switching between the thermal camera and the HD camera is instantaneous.
The camera’s remote controller also makes it easy to switch between color to reverse mode, giving the possibility to better distinguish the temperature differences that are observed in some situations.
The two-axis camera movements and the zoom are controlled with one hand only via a joystick. The focus is automatic but can be switched to manual if necessary and it is also operated from the ground control station.
Scanning the sea with a thermal imaging camera allows to distinguish the potential immigrants boats, no matter if they are small or dark, while they are still in the middle of the channel.
The infrared camera makes it possible to see the direction taken by these ships, if they continue to move forward or not (detecting an eventual engine failure or any other technical problem) and to identify any possible capsizing or a man overboard.
Guide the Search And Rescue teams and save time
Having a helicopter view of the sea from a peak overhanging the ground is really helpful to quickly detect any approaching immigrant boat.
The images, that are stored on board of our OnyxStar FOX-C8 XT rescue drone, are also transmitted in real time to the ground and across multiple displays connected to the operation center of the Hellenic Rescue Team.
Following the case, the SAR teams can intervene themselves on their speedboat, advise the Greek coastguards or the Frontex vessels.
The goal is to minimize the response time in case of emergency and to assist the migrants in difficulty as fast as possible.
The risk of hypothermia is indeed greater when a human is in the water at night as the temperature of the sea makes it happen rapidly. This period is even shorter when people are sick, tired or physically weakened like the immigrants.
Drone’s patrol for hours during the night
When necessary, with flight times of about half an hour, our OnyxStar FOX-C8 XT SAR drone is able to land and take off again in less than a minute, after replacing the batteries, in order to patrol all night long.
Depending on the situation needs, several drones can be used either alternately or simultaneously at multiple strategic locations of the beach.
The operational crew on the ground is usually composed of the pilot and the camera operator, with possibly one or two assistants, according to the team’s organization. The ground team remains permanently in contact with the Search And Rescue operational center that will alert the SAR vessels when necessary.
Thanks to that, the coastguards and the Frontex ships can patrol elsewhere during that time and cover larger areas.
Drone launched from a boat
Ready for take-off in a few minutes, the drone provides an aerial overview to the rescue boat’s crew which is so useful to detect vessels in distress.
Being able to see behind a rock, fly close to the beach or just inspect behind a large vessel, offers a general overview of the situation to the SAR teams while limiting the risks.
The drone flies to the target very quickly thus avoiding the SAR ship to navigate to a place that could potentially be dangerous for the rescuers.
If necessary, the drone is able to automatically return to the boat, thanks to its on-board GPS beacon.
To do so, the drone’s pilot just needs to trigger a switch requesting the aircraft to automatically fly back to the boat’s deck. This feature is particularly useful since even stopped, a boat is always in movement on the water.
A boat with immigrants detected and rescued during our UAV surveillance operation
Thanks to the images captured with our drone, the members of the Hellenic Rescue Team Kos spotted in the middle of the night the approach of a migrant boat.
Upon arrival, a disabled woman that was on a wheelchair and several babies landed from the boat, among others.
The rescuers straight away alerted the coastguards who immediately took care of the refugees.
See also: Drones to support sea rescue missions