Sunday, October 27, 2013

Bushfires, and damn fools with drones

I didn't run the “look at this drone footage of a bushfire” in my real job, at The Register, and here's why.

The intensity of aerial bushfire-fighting is impossible to imagine if you haven't seen it.

But outlets like Gizmodo think it's just fine to run with the fools' footage. (No, I won't link to it: I'm not going to promote the video.) Here's the kinds of justifications given:

  1. “We studied each flyover of the video and we can guess that the drone operator is part of an RFS crew.”

Funny, because the YouTube channel associated with the footage is mostly surfies following each others' great waves. Also, a “guess” isn't much of an editorial decision.

Furthermore the Whois for the Website of the YouTube account owner shows its domain (which redirects to its self-promoting Twitter account) was registered in June 2013 – in France. So no: I don't believe it's an RFS volunteer.

  1. “I think the heights at which this operator were flying are safe and manageable for both manned and unmanned aircraft.”
Actually, Gizmodo, what you think matters not one damn. Unauthorised flights over bushfire grounds are flat-out illegal; so are unauthorised flights within 30 metres of other people; and it's clear that fire-drone-film idiots broke both rules, from the video.

As did someone else reported by AAP down near the Springwood / Winmalee fire – although I wouldn't be surprised if the same person went looking for better footage, having harvested 90,000 YouTube hits on the first outage.

At one point last Wednesday, during the 80 km/h wind gusts on the Blue Mountains, fire spotted across the containment lines to what I first believed to be Mount Hay, but was more probably Mount Banks. I know that the RFS was worried about where I was, because they were marshalling some resources at Wentworth Falls Lake, and the radio scanner chatter was identifying first-response locations.

I'm guessing that it was dealt with by choppers, for three reasons: it's hard to get to; it was dealt with fast (not so long afterwards, the RFS commissioner said “crisis averted”); and I heard (and saw one or two of) a veritable Apocalypse Now flight of choppers suddenly passed by to my north.

Later, once it was declared safe for me to relax, I headed down the mountains. While passing Valley Heights, in the space of less than 30 seconds (roughly, between the Hawkesbury Road intersection and Valley Heights), I spotted two Erickson air-cranes, and three or four smaller choppers. They were working an area that was currently active that went from Faulconbridge to Winmallee: the area would be in the order of four square kilometres.

That's a very close separation between aircraft.

And these choppers were working in valleys, which meant they were rising up from below my ground level – if I were running a drone say 30 meters above myself from Valley Heights railway station, it would be above the choppers rising out of the gullies around Sun Valley.

That's why the idiots who decided to film an active fire-ground from a quad-copter are idiots: because anything bar, perhaps, the Ericsson air-cranes, is at risk from a collision with a drone. CASA identifies fragile tail-rotors at risk; others mention air intakes.

I hope CASA is able to identify whoever shot the footage, and charge them.

1 comment:

David Irving (no relation) said...

There was a CASA bloke on TV this morning who sounded pretty damned unhappy about these people.