United Hatzalah’s Tiberias Chapter Introduces Aquatic Rescue Drone

New UH aquatic rescue drone.

Last month, United Hatzalah’s Tiberias chapter received a special life-saving tool — a brand new aquatic rescue drone. The new drone is powerful enough that it is capable of carrying and safely dropping life preservers for drowning victims anywhere in the Kineret. The drone was donated to the chapter by a donor who wishes to remain anonymous in an effort to curb the number of fatalities caused by drowning incidents on the lake each year. 

During the hot summers in Israel, many Israelis flock to the Kinneret. Most of them stay in or around the city of Tiberias. Due to the crowded beaches and the lack of knowledge about the dangers of the lake’s afternoon undertow that sweeps swimmers out to the center of the lake, multiple incidents of drowning occur annually. The Tiberias chapter, which is led by chapter head Yossi Oknin, has been at the forefront of the marine rescue efforts for more than a decade now. Utilizing a rescue boat and a number of jet skis, United Hatzalah volunteers from the chapter assist the maritime police in patrolling the lake throughout the swimming season from April until October. Using these marine vehicles at their disposal, Oknin and his team are able to provide emergency care and undertake marine rescues in a matter of minutes. 

Now, a new tool has been added to the chapter’s lifesaving arsenal. The new drone is able to lift up to two kilograms in weight making it capable of carrying a rescue buoy or lifejacket. It can fly over long distances and make it to the center of the lake and back. 

One of the other special aquatic features that this drone has is that it is water-resistant. Unlike most drones, this drone can land in water using special floating devices which keep it afloat, and then take off once again without sustaining damage to its systems. This allows the equipment to be delivered safely to any drowning victim even if the drone connection fails and the drone plummets into the lake. 

The first-ever aquatic rescue drone to fly over the Kinneret also carries a specialized camera that has the ability to scan the lake and locate drowning victims. This technology is especially useful at night when the drone uses a thermal imaging camera to locate people in distress on the lake when the person would be otherwise near invisible to the naked eye. 

“The very first Kinneret drone was donated to our chapter anonymously,” Oknin said. “We already began practicing drills with the drone. I am very optimistic that this flying rescue machine will make a significant change and help lower the number of drownings we see on the lake annually. The best way to prevent drowning is through proper education, and following protocols. In a case when that isn’t done, the volunteers of United Hatzalah’s Tiberias chapter will always be on call ready to help.”

According to Oknin, the current goal is to raise money for many similar drones and to place them in volunteer homes around the Kinneret. By splitting up the lake into sections, each covered by a different drone, response time is shortened and more lives can be saved.

Yossi added: “We have enough volunteers around the Kinneret for us to go through with this plan. Many times, because the winds are western and blow toward the east, swimmers can get caught in the tide and can drift toward the other side of the Kinneret, toward the Golan Heights. If we have drones strategically located around the lake that can locate and assist potential drowning victims, then we will succeed at bringing down the number of drowning cases significantly.” 

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