THE beaches of the Gold Coast may have a new eye in the sky. Aerial observation business Marine Watch have begun trialling a new coastal surveillance aircraft on the tourist strip for spotting sharks and locating swimmers in trouble.
If Gold Coast City Council is willing to foot the $800,000 a year bill, the SB7L-360 Seeker-2 Seabird will operate seven days a week between Point Danger and Couran Cove for the use of lifesavers, lifeguards, police and marine authorities.
Marine Watch director Glenn Leigh Smith said it is the greatest surveillance swimmers could ask for.
“It's the perfect coastal surveillance aircraft,” Mr Leigh Smith said.
“It can stay up in the air three times as long as a helicopter for the same price.
“The Seabird can last seven hours in the air at a time, it flies at around 65 knots and can drop down to as low as 50 feet.”
The veteran aviator and boatie is no strange to the air or water, his father Reg founded Coast Guard and Air Sea Rescue on the Gold Coast in the 1960s.
Mr Leigh Smith said the idea for Marine Watch came about when Brisbane man Jonathon Beard was mauled by a shark off Fingal Beach in January.
He was with his family at Kingscliff at the time and noticed that people began to go back into the water after a surf life saving helicopter and a light plane made a sweep and given swimmers the all-clear.
He said a regular aerial surveillance would give beachgoers peace of mind.
“We want to be proactive about it, we don't want to raise the alarm bells if there is no need for it. We can communicate with lifesavers on the ground and let them know of any danger if we spot anything.
Mr Leigh Smith said even the noise of the plane could deter whales if they are dangerously close to becoming entangled in shark nets and can also be used to monitor bushfires and police pursuits.
Gold Coast City Council mayor Ron Clarke and chief Gold Coast lifeguard Warren Young have already taken test flights.
“Everyone who has been up have given us very positive feedback,” Mr Leigh-Smith said.
Mr Leigh-Smith hopes the plane can be fitted with high-definition surveillance cameras to beam live pictures back to land-based computers.
“It would work well for tourism with spotting whales and dolphins and can be used to document beach erosion,” he said.
“My intention is to take it national some day.”
He hopes to be fully operational by the second week of December.