Drones drop from the sky during light show
An investigation is under way into a technical glitch that sent hundreds of drones plunging into Victoria Harbour during a light show at Marvel Stadium on July 14.
A team of divers spent hours in the Yarra River retrieving the drones, which were operated by the Australian Traffic Network for the Matilda’s practice soccer match with France ahead of the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
The incident occurred in what was supposed to be a 10-minute show when the drones suddenly plummeted into the water as a result of a technical error.
According to a media release ahead of the event, 500 drones were used in the display that contained a series of messages and images in support of the Matildas.
Visit Victoria confirmed the incident was under investigation by the Australian Traffic Network (ATN), which has been contacted for comment.
It is not known exactly what caused the technical fault, however, no injuries were reported.
A Civil Aviation Safety Authority spokesperson said the regulator was aware of what happened and confirmed it had approved the drone display “with operating conditions in place to ensure the safety of the public”.
“We are talking to the operator to understand what happened,” the spokesperson said.
Yarra riverkeeper Charlotte Sterrett of the Yarra Riverkeeper Association, which advocates for the river’s health, said she was shocked, noting hundreds of lithium batteries inside the drones had posed a significant risk to the water’s ecosystem.
“The lifeblood of our city – the Yarra, Birrarung river – deserves our care and respect, not to be trashed. Was this known hazard assessed as part of a risk management plan?” she said.
“We know lithium batteries contain toxic chemicals and heavy metals, including lithium, cobalt, nickel, and other hazardous substances. When a lithium battery enters a river, it can leak or release these harmful materials into the water, leading to pollution.”
Ms Sterrett said toxic chemicals released from the batteries can poison fish and other aquatic species, disrupt the balance of the ecosystem, and potentially lead to long-term ecological damage.
“While not all drones are the same, we estimate that a drone battery is equivalent to around 50 double A batteries. With 350 drones in the water, that’s the equivalent of around 17,500 batteries. This is significant,” she said.
“It is vital that every single drone is recovered and that over-water shows do not take place over water until we know what went wrong and have a plan to prevent this from happening again.”
Victoria Police said Water Police were at Victoria Harbour and assisted Parks Victoria with marine traffic on the night, but confirmed police were not called to respond to the incident regarding the drones, nor were they investigating.
According to 7News, divers reported visibility in the water being limited to an arm’s length with cords tied around each drone before they were pulled out like “crab nets”.
The City of Melbourne was contacted if it was involved in approving the display but referred enquiries to Visit Victoria and the Australian Traffic Network.
Caption: Drones are retrieved from the Yarra River. Photos courtesy of 7 News Melbourne.