Land Search: Putty NSW – 03/09/2021

On Friday 3 September 2021, Singleton Unit of the NSW State Emergency contacted CREST NSW requesting Communications support for a land search. A child was missing in the rugged terrain in the Yango Drive area of Putty NSW.

Cessnock Rescue Squad also assisted with the land search effort – a helping hand anywhere, anytime.

CREST NSW Inc Operations Director Andrew Pain said that he had been repairing some communications equipment when he received the call. “I was in the middle of eating some lunch when the call came for assistance with a Land Search at Putty through the local State Emergency Service for a three and a half year old autistic boy. It took a couple of minutes to absorb this and gear up for action. There was a couple of minutes of deliberation over which might have been better value – forward command vehicle or 4WD with a trailer. We settled on the latter, it was now time to down tools on the 27 MHz vertical antenna.”

The Putty area and surrounds is quite rugged and difficult to get decent UHF radio coverage and there is little internet coverage in the area. “We did our homework first, printed out what we needed, note the necessary waypoints to put into the GPS and then deployed. This may mean we are an hour or so behind but there is nothing like turning up to find everything works as expected.”

“First things first, I needed to determine the likely location of the staging area and what sort of area radio coverage may be desired. I printed out around ten of these topographic maps and ran some coverage plots to get idea of what radio coverage might be available from a nominated site or two. Later we can we fine tune the results until we get an outcome that is the best that we can get.”

When the team arrived, the search had been underway for about half an hour using UHF Digital Simplex. While monitoring the frequency to identify coverage deficiencies the team located the best site to install a repeater or cross band system. Access to one of the planned high spots was gained before dusk for a VHF-UHF crossband repeater.

The CREST crossband repeater on site

During the night, a Government Radio Network Cell on Wheels had also been deployed there and our system became a backup.

“Fortunately, the land owner had cleared the site of trees about a month prior. For us, this is a nicety, not a necessity. We go with plans from A to Z and can always walk a solution in if that is what is required. Testing of the CREST crossband over the weekend proved that it worked quite well with nice clear transmissions across and beyond the search area.

CREST NSW set up consisting of a VHF-UHF Crossband repeater. To the left is a transportable GRN Cell on Wheels.

The resources that were made available for this land search were incredible:

  • The Police with their command, in the air, on foot, trail bikes, horses, divers and Dog Squad;
  • The NSW State Emergency Service alone provided in excess of a hundred searchers per day. This was additional to the Bush Search And Rescue arm who also set up the GRN Cell On Wheels;
  • The Rural Fire Service in the air, on foot, trail bikes, pumping water from a dam and providing welfare;
  • Cessnock VRA Rescue Squad assisting the SES effort;
  • The local community also pitching in, adding to the overall effort.

Thankfully the land search was a success and the child was located in good condition after 3 nights in the bush.

“When carrying out an after action review (AAR), there is always the question, “What would we do differently?”. About the only thing here is that the hydraulically raised mast is about to get another couple of sections added to it which will bring it to around 11m.”