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'Missing plane' training drill puts Tasmanian search and rescue ops to the test in central highlands

By Alison Costelloe, Sunday September 23, 2018 - 13:04 EST
ABC licensed image
Mounted teams were also part of the training exercise in Tasmania's central highlands. - ABC licensed

A light plane, last seen by a fisherman somewhere above Tasmania's Great Lake, is missing with its 57-year-old pilot — that is the fictional scenario faced by police, surf lifesavers, the SES and volunteers at a training exercise.

Twenty surf lifesaving volunteers were among 130 people scouring the land and waterways at Liawenee, in central Tasmania yesterday.

"Our members are really looking to do more than our work between the flags," Surf Life Saving Tasmania's operations manager Boyd Griggs said.

"We're just trying to find our way and see where we fit in with this environment and days like this show we do fit in really well."

The were a catalyst for change at Surf Life Saving.

After being called on to supply boating equipment during the emergency, police realised the organisation had more to offer in that area.

And its volunteers were hungry to learn.

They began directing funding and training at lake, river and flood rescues. Recent grants have allowed them to stock up on new gear, although Mr Griggs said they don't need much.

"Luckily enough most of our gear we have for the surf is transferrable into these environments," he said.

Surf Life Saving Tasmania sent 20 volunteers to yesterday's training exercise, along with inflatable rescue boats, jet skis and four-wheel-drives.

Tasmania Police Inspector Darren Hopkins said the extra support was welcome.

"Surf are moving into some of the swift water rescue environment with us as well and it's good to have them along," he said.

The exercise — which also involved Inland Fisheries and bushwalking groups — was held at Liawenee, in the Central Highlands, chosen not so much for challenging terrain but challenging communication.

"Mobile phone coverage is difficult here," Inspector Hopkins said.

"So we can't rely on that.

"So it's setting up relays and communication networks to make sure that the boats, the ATVs, the helicopters, the horses, and the walkers can all communicate back to the command post."

The exercise started with a fictional report of a light aircraft which had disappeared somewhere near the Great Lake, along with its pilot.

Emergency workers and volunteers, on foot, horse, bike and boat, set off looking for plane debris and signs of human life.

Although it was a training exercise, they were instructed to view the situation as genuine.

"We actually use this as a build up to what we've got to do in a real time operation so they take it very seriously," SES Southern Regional Officer Mark Dance said.


© ABC 2018

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