EPIRB hoax on Coast

An AGL rescue helicopter landed not once but twice at a Maryborough high school at the weekend after hoax distress signals were set off.

AUSSAR, the Canberra-based rescue co-ordination centre, revealed yesterday that 18 emergency locator beacons discovered near a Maryborough battery shop on Saturday was the most found in the country on any day.

“Aircraft at Maryborough Airport heard them all going off,” Senior Constable Marty Webb of the Hervey Bay Water police said.

Fifteen beacons were found in a box at the back of Positive Batteries on Saturday afternoon. Six of them had been activated. Another beacon which had been activated was handed into police after it was found in a pool.

The 18th beacon was discovered after the helicopter had taken off for its Maroochydore base but had to turn around after another signal was picked up.

The signal was tracked to the same business where another two beacons had been hidden. One had been activated.

“It's very frustrating. We're here to help people and save lives, not this,” AGL helicopter pilot Aaron Regan said.

“To have them purposely set off is a very unusual circumstance.

“It's costly in the way of time - three hours on a wild goose chase.”

The cost of sending the aircraft for a false emergency is between $7000 and $8000.

“The event could also have been devastating for anyone really in trouble,” Snr Const Webb said, “after it was decided that any further distress signals coming from the local area were to be ignored by rescue crews.”

He said a number of businesses, including Positive Batteries, act as places where people can surrender their old beacons for deactivation.

But the ones that were activated on Saturday had been left unsecured outside the store over the weekend.

Police were yesterday expected to speak to the business about the storage of its beacons.

Snr Const. Webb said police wanted to remind people who found EPIRBs to hand them in and that there were severe penalties for those who set them off.

“There are very strict penalties in place for the activation of emergency beacons when there is no emergency situation,” he said.

It is not known whether all the items have been recovered or if some remain missing.

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