Warning on emergency radio beacons

OUTDOOR enthusiasts around the Clarence Valley are being urged to know their emergency position-indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs) after an emergency services wild-goose chase near Maclean on Thursday.

When activated the units transmit an emergency signal via satellite, automatically raising the alarm with nearby emergency services which can track the signal to locate the unit.

On Thursday morning, the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter went to South Grafton then to Maclean after one of these units was activated.

After searching for several hours, Westpac crews and police eventually located the unit which was in a package in the back of a courier van where it had activated accidentally.

Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter general manager, Kris Beavis, said the rescue service responded to about one emergency beacon activation per month.

He said while most were legitimate emergency situations, occasionally a unit was activated by accident or through a manufacturing defect.

He said these incidents were becoming more common given the units were now more portable and carried as standard equipment by bushwalkers, trail-riders and other outdoor enthusiasts.

However he said the benefits of the devices far outweighed the cost of the rare false alarms.

“These beacons are tremendously valuable if someone is genuinely in trouble,” Mr Beavis said.

“For example, we've done a couple of jobs where the helicopter has actually been able to zero straight into a search area and pick a person up straight away.

“They've actually saved us time in terms of finding the right position, so they really work in our favour.”

However he said people who owned the beacons should still take steps to help minimise accidental activation.

He said people should get familiar with the beacons and keep them properly maintained and secured when not in use.

Mr Beavis said while searches for accidentally activated beacons were troublesome, a bigger concern were hoax emergency calls.

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