Drone flies in to clear Joburg explosion mystery
A local drone company has flown into to assess the trail of destruction left by the massive explosion that ripped through Lilian Ngoloyi (formerly Bree) Street in Central Johannesburg last Wednesday evening, literally tossing taxis and cars into the air.
So far, one person is known to have died from the explosion, and at least 40 were injured.
Along with the city fathers and disaster management professionals, drone services company Delta Scan deployed its Elios 3 drone, along with the civil engineering expertise of the drone operators, to collect data that would help create a picture of what exactly caused the explosion.
“Local authorities and emergency services found themselves needing immediate, critical information about the site’s condition, including the status of underground tunnels, culverts, stormwater lines, subterranean services, and nearby properties,” said Darryl Epstein, managing director at Delta Scan.
“Delta Scan deployed their unparalleled expertise and cutting-edge technology in response to this complex predicament.
In the wake of a catastrophe, it is a race against time to salvage lives, infrastructure, and a sense of normalcy. The clock begins ticking the moment disaster strikes, necessitating swift and decisive action. That is why we reacted fast, to help lives and property, while providing accurate information during a time of desperation.”
It is a developing story of course, but at the time of writing this, the official line from City manager Floyd Brink is that the gas that resulted in the massive explosion could have come from three sources – sewerage that may have invaded the underground storm water systems, possibly creating methane gas that then exploded; natural gas getting mixed up with oxygen in underground service ducts that could have created the explosion; or just a gas pipeline that burst and left the trail of desolation along Lilian Ngoloyi.
People on the scene said they were smelling and “a rotten smell.”
Hopefully, the data collected by the Elios 3, a sturdy inspection drone from Flyability that flies in its own protective mesh ana work in all kinds of hostile environments – will provide conclusive information that would tell the real story of what exactly took place.
In explaining the choice of the drone for this particular mission, Epstein explained that the Elios 3 was designed specifically for such complex confined space mapping and inspection; and they used it at sites that included local electricity utility company Eskom, and various mining sites outside South Africa.
“Data collected by the drone will be used to create a digitised model of the disaster site in ultra-detailed 3D,” Esptein said. “This comprehensive visualisation merges above and below-ground information, delivering a detailed, holistic understanding of the situation on-site.
“That, couples with the operators’ civil engineering experience, will help provide comprehensive engineering insights and reporting based on drone-captured digital information, contributing significantly to informed decision-making.”
Also on site to offer support was another drone services company, UAV Aerial works.
“My team provided aerial data which assisted Delta Scan in obtaining critical aerial data for further engineering information extraction,” said UAV Aerial Works Director, Kim James.
“It is impressive seeing professionals like the Delta Scan team, operate in their field of expertise, using tools including drones (in this case they used their Elios 3) to provide data, analysis and advice.
“On this project, they combined their in-depth engineering experience and industry knowledge with the advanced capabilities of their asset management platform, Delta Cloud, to diligently map and investigate the extent of the damages.
“Delta Cloud’s robust visualisation, recording, and reporting features enables the team to monitor and analyse the situation on the ground efficiently, providing valuable data for the forensics and recovery of the infrastructure.”
Perhaps it is just as well that Delta Scan arrived with help when they did, because there have been reports that the city is struggling to keep employees with civil engineering knowhow, and when disaster struck, city officials had to circulate a message looking to engage independent civil engineers.
The company has made a name for itself locally and internationally by conducting engineering audits using the industry’s most advanced unmanned mapping tools. Recently, it sent its drone into the tunnels under Johannesburg to assess their integrity and whether they were still fit and unclogged enough to do their drainage tasks seamlessly.
And when the tailings dam at Jaggersfontein Mine just outside Bloemfontein burst and deposited sludge into the houses of a nearly compound, Delta scan was on hand to map out the scale of the destruction.
Said Epstein; “Our work serves as a testament to how technology can bring clarity to chaos, strengthen resilience, and aid recovery when disaster strikes. As we navigate an increasingly unpredictable world, the integration of such digital technology in disaster response isn’t just desirable—it’s essential.”