Four missing after Australian military helicopter crashes and halts US joint exercise

Rescue teams have found debris and are still searching for four aircrew members who went missing after an Australian army helicopter “ditched” into waters off the coast of Queensland during joint military exercises with the US.

The missing helicopter was participating in the Talisman Sabre, a biennial joint US-Australian military exercise primarily based in Queensland. This year’s exercise involves 13 nations and more than 30,000 military personnel.

The exercises were paused once search operations began but had restarted limited activity later in the day.

The military helicopter, MRH-90 Taipan, crashed near Hamilton Island, a popular tourist resort within the Great Barrier Reef, at approximately 10.30pm local time on Friday when it was engaged in a two-helicopter counterterror training mission.

Informing the press about the ongoing search operation, defence minister Richard Marles said the families of the missing crew have been notified.

So far, there is no sign of the missing crew, but a rescue helicopter reported spotting debris on Saturday near Dent Island in the Whitsunday Islands group.

Mr Marles said the helicopter ditched, referring to an emergency landing on water, during a mission that involved a second helicopter. The second helicopter promptly initiated a search and rescue operation.

“Defence exercises, which are so necessary for the readiness of our defence force, are serious. They carry risk,” Mr Marles said, addressing reporters in Brisbane.

“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.”

General Angus Campbell, chief of defence force, said Queensland state authorities, members of the public and US military personnel are all participating in search efforts.

“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.”

This is the second incident involving an Australian Taipan this year, after one ditched into the sea off the coast of New South Wales in March. Fortunately, all 10 passengers and crew members were rescued in that incident.

US defence secretary Lloyd Austin, who was in Brisbane for a meeting on Saturday, plans to travel with Mr Marles to north Queensland on Sunday to observe the ongoing exercise.

“It’s always tough when you have accidents in training, but… 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 Austin said.

“Our guys tend to make this look easy and they make it look easy because they’re so well exercised and rehearsed and trained, and this is unfortunately a part of that, what it takes to get them to where we need them to be,” he 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.”

During a meeting with their Australian counterparts, Mr Austin and the US secretary of state Antony Blinken also paid tribute to the missing aircrew, acknowledging the challenges of training while emphasising the importance of preparation to protect lives during crises.

The MRH-90 Taipan helicopters have experienced issues since their arrival in Australia in 2007. The entire fleet was grounded in 2019 to address tail rotor blade problems, and in 2020, 27 Taipans were grounded due to door malfunctions.

Australia grounded its Taipan fleet as a precaution after the crash, said exercise director Australian army brigadier Damian Hill.

Australia announced earlier this year that it plans to replace its fleet with 40 US Black Hawks, citing their proven track record and reliability.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button