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The MRH-90 Taipan helicopter went down near Hamilton Island, a Great Barrier Reef tourist resort in Queensland, Australia (pictured). Alamy Stock Photo
Queensland

Four missing after Australian military helicopter crashes during joint exercises with US

Officials said a search was under way to find the crew and their families had been notified.

FOUR AIR CREW members are missing after an Australian army helicopter crashed into waters off the Queensland state coast during joint military exercises with the United States, officials said.

The MRH-90 Taipan helicopter went down near Hamilton Island, a Great Barrier Reef tourist resort, at about 10.30pm local time (1.30pm Irish time) on Friday, defence minister Richard Marles said.

A search was under way to find the crew, and their families had been notified, officials said.

A rescue helicopter reported spotting debris today near Dent Island in the Whitsunday Islands group.

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

Marles said the helicopter ditched, which refers to an emergency landing on water. He said it was taking part in a mission that involved a second helicopter, which immediately started a search and rescue operation.

He told reporters in Brisbane: “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.”

Defence Force chief general Angus Campbell said Queensland state authorities, members of the public and US military personnel were taking part in the search.

He said: “Our focus at the moment is finding our people and supporting their families and the rest of our team.

“This is indeed a terrible moment.”

It 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 night-time counterterrorism training exercise when it ran into trouble. All 10 passengers and crew members were rescued.

US defence secretary Lloyd Austin was in Brisbane for a meeting today and is due to travel with Marles to north Queensland on Sunday to see the exercise.

The exercise has been paused by the search.

mrh-90-taipan-multirole-military-helicopter-jointly-operated-by-the-australian-army-and-navy File photo of a MRH-90 Taipan helicopter. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

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, Marles and foreign minister Penny Wong.

Austin said: “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.

“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.”

Blinken added: “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.”

The missing helicopter had just dropped off two Australian commandos before it hit the water, Australian Broadcasting Corp reported.

Australia announced in January its army and navy would stop flying the European-built Taipans by December 2024, 13 years earlier than originally planned, because they had proved unreliable.

They will be replaced by 40 US Black Hawks. Mr Marles said at the time the Lockheed Martin-designed Black Hawks “have a really good proven track record in terms of their reliability”.

Australia’s Taipans had been plagued by problems since the first helicopter 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. A year later, 27 Taipans were grounded because of a problem with doors.

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