27 October 2021, Ostend, Belgium. - A real story by a Diamond Aircraft Special Mission Manager
How it came
Together with ViDAR (Visual Detection and Ranging for Maritime Surveillance) supplier Sentient Vision Systems, we were hosting SAR demonstrations at Ostend, Belgium.
The morning briefing with the guests of the day was well under way, when suddenly, we received a phone call from the Belgian Maritime Rescue and Coordination Center (MRCC), asking if we could support them by searching a migrant boat in distress, as the MRCC didn’t have a helicopter available at this moment. Location was unknown. All they could see was windmills. Considering that there are thousands of wind turbines 30 nm off the coast of Belgium this information was not helping to identify the accurate location.
The Coast Guard was attending the DA42 MPP flight demonstration the day before. So, they knew about the capabilities of our aircraft. Therefore, they asked if we could support their rescue mission by detecting and localizing the little rubber boat. Our pilot, Markus Fischer, and sensor operator Gavin Edwards from Sentient, accompanied by our local customer Tom Seru from North Sea Aviation Services accepted the task and were airborne just 10 minutes after the call, heading into the blue (on this day grey), inbound the windmill part 30 nm off the coast.
How it worked
If you are now asking yourself, how should you find a little rubber boat in the middle of the North Sea without accurate information on the location, here is the answer: ViDAR by Sentient.
ViDAR (Visual Detection and Ranging) is a maritime wide area optical search system proven to operate up to Sea State 6 (on the World Meteorological Organization sea state code that ranges from 0-9). It autonomously finds objects on the surface of the ocean over vastly greater areas than traditional search methods. As ViDAR operates optically, it is unaffected by white caps and other effects that impact technology such as radar. Day and Night, the system can detect objects that are very small – much beyond the capability of the human eye – to dramatically extend the coverage of the aircraft in a broad range of search missions including search and rescue, illegal fishing, counter narcotics and maritime security.
In addition to ViDAR the DA42 MPP was equipped with an EO/IR camera from Trakka Systems, which is used to identify the object provided by ViDAR. The Mission Management System that combines all the different sensors in one single user interface is CarteNav AIMS-ISR.
For more information see what our partners are saying at the end of this article.
How it turned out
Approximately 15 minutes after takeoff, the DA42 MPP arrived at the search area, the windmill park. Due to the wide sweep width of the ViDAR Pod, the boat was found on its first pass.
The coordinates were passed on to Police, Navy and Coast Guard, and rescue operations with a helicopter and rescue boat were immediately launched. It turned out that the boat had been aimlessly floating in the North Sea for 48 hours with the health of the passengers deteriorating quickly. Thankfully, all 24 people aboard could be rescued due to the fast localization by the DA42 MPP, that proceeded to carry out overwatch of the situation.
What our partners are saying
“To be able to yet again show how ViDAR can save lives is a testament to the skills and abilities of the development team in Australia. Having carried out a simple integration with Diamond Aircraft of the VMS-5 ViDAR pod on the DA42 MPP and then being able to unexpectedly use this for a life-saving mission proves the real-world capabilities of ViDAR.” said Dr Paul Boxer, MD of Sentient. “ViDAR can detect objects that other sensors struggle with and in conditions that are almost impossible to operate in using the typical sensor suite on a SAR platform. By working with Diamond, CarteNav and Trakka we offer a step change in maritime search effectiveness.”
“I am very proud of the fact that CarteNav's ISR Mission Software is the market leader with ViDAR in both experience and capabilities. Every deployment has taught us more about the capabilities of ViDAR, and Diamond Aircraft’s latest offering on the DA42 MPP in partnership with Sentient Vision is no exception," said Carl Daniels, COO of CarteNav. "A vital component of this success stems from our team's philosophy of maximum situational awareness leading to maximum mission effectiveness. It is great to see AIMS-ISR's sensor cueing in tandem with ViDAR working in CarteNav's ISR Mission System, AIMS-ISR – with ViDAR detection data displayed alongside EO/IR in a single and intuitive user interface."