Drone technology has been used to save the lives of two swimmers in New South Wales in a world-first ocean rescue last week.

The NSW state government invested $430,000 in drone technology late last year as part of a trial on the state’s north coast, in partnership with Surf Life Saving NSW. The drones carry flotation devices which can be dropped to swimmers struggling in the surf.

Just as lifeguards at Lennox Head were preparing for a training session to familiarise themselves with the new drone technology late last week, a member of the public spotted two young men in trouble in the water about 700m offshore in swells of up to 3m.

The lifeguard supervisor immediately jumped into action and took control of the new drone, state minister for primary industries Niall Blair said.

“The lifeguard in this scenario got the Little Ripper drone up in the air and guided it down the beach,” Blair said.

“Using the drone the lifeguard was able to spot the swimmers, and then drop the Rescue Pod into the water. Vision captured by the drone shows the Pod expanding, allowing both swimmers to reach it and grab hold of the device to help them stay afloat.”

You can view the incredible footage below.

Thanks to the drone technology and quick-thinking lifeguards, both men were fatigued but not injured.

The drone technology was able to assist the swimmers far more quickly than a lifeguard would have previously been able to, parliamentary secretary of northern NSW Ben Franklin said.

“It took only 70 seconds from when the Little Ripper drone was launched to when it dropped the Pod into the ocean for the rescue, a task that would usually take a lifeguard up to six minutes to complete,” Franklin said.

“This was an extraordinary rescue with the very best possible outcome.”

Deputy premier and minister for regional NSW John Barilaro said the state’s investment had already paid off.

“This is a world-first rescue,” Barilaro said.

“Never before has a drone, fitted with a flotation device, been used to rescue swimmers like this. It’s quite incredible to see that the NSW government’s investment in this technology has already resulted in two people having their lives saved.”

The concept for the Little Ripper drone was envisioned by International Lifesaving founding president Kevin Weldon when he saw the use of drones in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005.

Weldon saw the potential for the use of drones in search and rescue efforts in Australia, and 10 years later the technology was launched.