Four Aircrew missing after Australian helicopter crashes during Military Exercis
Four people are missing after an Australian helicopter crashed off the coast of Q ueensland during a night-time military training exercise.
Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles said the MRH-90 Taipan helicopter went down at about 10.30pm on Friday during joint exercises with the United States near the Great Barrier Reef resort of Hamilton Island.
A search is now underway for the four missing aircrew and their families have been notified.
Debris was spotted on Saturday morning near Dent Island in the Whitsunday Islands group by one rescue helicopter.
Mr Marles said: “Defence exercises, which are so necessary for the readiness of our defence force, are serious.
“They carry risk.
“As we desperately hope for better news during the course of this day we are reminded about the gravity of the act which comes with wearing our nation’s uniform.”
The helicopter was taking part in Talisman Sabre, a biennial joint US – Australian military exercise largely based in Queensland, which has now been put on hold following the crash.
The two-week exercise involves 13 nations and more than 30,000 military personnel and includes mock land and air combat, as well as amphibious landings.
It is reported the Taipan had just dropped off two Australian commandos before it ditched.
Director of the Talisman Sabre military exercises, Brigadier Damian Hill said: “I’ve initiated a Pause-Ex across Australia for all participants of Talisman Sabre to enable them all, regardless of their nation, to reach out and let their families know what is going on.”
Mr Marles said the Taipan ditched (emergency landing on water) during a mission with a second helicopter, which immediately started a search and rescue operation.
Defence Force Chief Gen. Angus Campbell said Queensland state authorities, members of the public and U.S. military personnel were also involved in the search.
“Our focus at the moment is finding our people and supporting their families and the rest of our team, ” he said. “This is indeed a terrible moment.”
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken paid tribute to the missing air crew at the outset of a meeting with their Australian counterparts on Saturday.
Mr Austin said it is “always tough when you have accidents in training” but added, “the reason that we train to such high standards is so that we can be successful and we can protect lives when we are called to answer any kind of crisis”.
Mr Blinken said: “We’re so grateful to them for their dedication, for their service, for everything they’ve been doing to stand up for the freedom that we share and that is what unites us more than anything else.”
This is the second emergency involving an Australian Taipan this year, after one ditched into the sea off the New South Wales state coast in March.
That helicopter was taking part in a nighttime counterterrorism training exercise when it ran into trouble. All 10 passengers and crew members were rescued.
Australia announced in January its forces would stop flying the European-built Taipans by December 2024, 13 years earlier than planned, because they had proven unreliable. The will be replaced with 40 US Black Hawks.
The helicopters have been plagued by problems since they first arrived in the country in 2007.
Australia’s entire fleet of 47 Taipans was grounded in 2019 to fix a problem with their tail rotor blades and a year later, 27 were grounded because of a problem with doors.
Australia’s Defence Department has not commented on whether the Taipans will be grounded.