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Australia says no chance of four soldiers surviving crash as it grounds MRH-90 helicopter fleet


There is no chance of four missing crew members surviving the army helicopter crash, Australia’s defence ministry said on Monday as rescue efforts changed to recovery.

Defence minster Richard Marles said there was no chance that capt Danniel Lyon, Lt Maxwell Nugent, warrant officer Joseph Laycock or Cpl Alexander Naggs had survived.

“There was a catastrophic incident and with every passing hour, it is now clear that any hope of finding (the four crew) alive has been lost,” Mr Marles told reporters.

The Australian army MRH-90 helicopter crashed into waters off the Whitsunday Islands on the Great Barrier Reef shortly after 10.30pm on Friday during a nighttime exercise with the US.

“Significant” wreckage from the helicopter has been discovered that shows evidence of a “catastrophic incident”, Mr Marles, said, adding that the mission is now one of “recovery”.

Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese told parliament: “Our worst fears have been confirmed.”

He previously described the recent crash as a stark reminder “that there are no safe or easy days for those who serve in our country’s name”.

“There will be a full investigation and we will come to understand exactly what happened and learn the lessons from it,” Mr Marles added.

The defence minister earlier said the helicopter “ditched” but on Monday he did not rule out pilot error or disorientation in the dark causing the crash into the water.

Part of the airframe was retrieved by Monday but most of the craft remained on the seabed, authorities said.

An Australian Army MRH-90 Taipan helicopter conducting flying serials

(EPA)

Following the crash, the ministry grounded its fleet of more than 40 of the MRH-90 Taipan helicopters, made by French Airbus, raising doubts if any will fly again.

“There was a catastrophic impact on the helicopter when it hit the water,” Mr Marles said.

“We will move through the process of putting the Black Hawks into service as quickly as we can … and we will not be flying MRH90s until we understand what has happened,” he added.

Canberra announced in January that it plans to replace the MRH-90 with US Black Hawks. The entire fleet was previously grounded in March after a helicopter ditched in waters off the state of New South Wales during a routine training exercise.

The retirement date of the fleet set for December 2024 would be 13 years earlier than Australia had initially planned.

The lost Taipan was taking part in the biennial US-Australian military exercise called the Talisman Sabre, which is largely based in Queensland state. This year’s exercise involves 13 nations and more than 30,000 military personnel.

The exercise was paused after the rescue operations began but resumed on Monday with some changes near the recovery operation, Australian defence force chief Gen Angus Campbell said.

He thanked the US and Canada for their help in the search and recovery efforts, which he said was “not an easy operation”. The wreckage lay in the path of strong currents and tidal movements and was too deep for standard diving operations.


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