Video and photo gallery: The ‘otter’ swaps snowy wastes for Norfolk beach
As a striking, tracked vehicle dubbed the 'otter' made its eye-catching first appearance on a Norfolk beach yesterday, its importer revealed growing national sales interest.
Tim Dockerty, managing director of Specialist Vehicle Trading in Little Melton, near Norwich, has clinched the worldwide sales right for the Russian-built ZZ3 – capable of 'swimming' through rivers, waves or flood water – and last month took his two demonstrators to the Emergency Services Show in Coventry.
He said: 'We had 160 people express a very keen interest and it was not just emergency services looking at flood, mountain and urban rescue. Telecom companies were among other interested parties.'
Mr Dockerty, 52, had been negotiating a deal with the manufacturer, Russian Machines, and its American joint venture partner Terex for more than two years.
He is now being helped by Norfolk county councillor Paul Rice to find suitable sites around Norwich for an assembly plant in a venture that could create up to 200 jobs.
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The vehicle is capable of operating on all terrains, from ice and snow to sand, and yesterday's demonstration at Sea Palling – which followed one on the River Yare at Norwich in September – was carried out as part of an exercise with fire officers, lifeboat crew and coastguards.
The aim was to look at different ways of rescuing someone if they fell and injured themselves climbing on the granite boulders of the offshore reef built to protect the dunes.
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Tim Lewis, who leads Norfolk Fire Service's urban search and rescue team, which has a nationwide role in emergencies, said: 'It is possible someone could fall 15 feet on the rocks and become trapped in a confined space. Coastguards would always be the first service on the scene but we have come to look at different rescue scenarios.'
Yesterday's rough sea restricted the 'otter' to shallow water, but Mr Dockerty said modifications would soon enable it to 'plough through the waves and become a totally marine vehicle'.
Mr Rice is making the case with his council colleagues for the fire service to buy one of the �73,000 vehicles and sees potential for rescues in inaccessible areas of the Broads.
Mr Lewis said: 'If we had a repeat of the 1953 floods it would be ideal for reaching people in danger and taking them to a safe place.'
In his team's national role, it would be useful in dealing with the type of floods to hit parts of the country in recent weeks.
Dog walkers on the beach were amazed at the vehicle's agility on soft sand and the fact it left an impression as light as a footprint.
'It is even capable of going across fresh powder snow,' said Mr Dockerty.