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Search and rescue missions are often supported by airborne capabilities. Advances in the sensor field can augment the capabilities of the teams to locate survivors from the air.

The new infra-red sensor technology fitted to one of South Australia’s rescue helicopters already saved a life. The two new sensors, one of which is permanently attached to a helicopter, are part of a $4.6 million technology upgrade that will give police and rescuers greater capability from the air.

According to, the advanced cameras sense light and heat and are capable of producing high-definition images to overlay digital maps, helping pinpoint the exact location of a person or object. The police helicopter operates about 300 missions each year. The second sensor can be fitted to another helicopter if resources are needed.

“We’re now able to search large areas very quickly,” said Special Tasks and Rescue (STAR) officer-in-charge Superintendent David O’Donovan. “With the quality of the footage that operators are able to view, they were able to identify a missing person during a recent mission, which enabled them to coordinate the movement of resources to that person to get medical treatment and save his life.”

O’Donovan also said police had success using one of the cameras to pursue five offenders in a stolen car. The new technology replaces the Forward Looking Infra-red (FLIR) system which has been used by police for about 20 years. The FLIR system had been controversial and was used during a shooting incident in 2015.

During the standoff the police helicopter was forced to move away from the scene, causing the settings on the recording system to be altered, leading to footage of the incident being compromised. O’Donovan stated the old system was “outdated”, and that the upgrade “will serve us very well going into the future”.

Police Minister Peter Malinauskas said the money spent on the camera sensor technology was an investment into the safety of the community. “The upgrade complements recent investments such as the new firearms simulator, facial recognition technology and body worn cameras — each of which ensures our police can be as effective as possible.”