Australian Army Helicopter Goes Missing During Joint Military Exercises
Four air crew members are reported missing after an Australian army helicopter, an MRH-90 Taipan, crashed into waters off the coast of Queensland during joint military exercises with the United States. The incident occurred near Lindeman Island, a popular tourist resort within the Great Barrier Reef, at approximately 11 p.m. on Friday. The exercise, known as Talisman Sabre, involves 13 nations and over 30,000 military personnel and is mainly conducted in Queensland.
Search and Rescue Efforts Underway
Australian Army Brigadier Damian Hill, the exercise director, confirmed the incident and stated that all missing crew members are Australian men. The search for them involves personnel from the United States, Canada, and Australia. Debris believed to be from the crashed helicopter has been recovered, according to Queensland Police Assistant Commissioner Douglas McDonald.
Defense Minister’s Statement
Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles addressed the media in Brisbane, acknowledging the seriousness of military exercises and the inherent risks involved. He mentioned that the term “ditched” refers to an emergency landing on water. The minister expressed hope for positive news about the missing crew and emphasized the gravity of their service while wearing the nation’s uniform.
Exercise Impact and Response
In response to the incident, the Talisman Sabre exercise was postponed temporarily but later resumed with limited activity. As a precautionary measure, Australia grounded its entire Taipan fleet. This is the second emergency involving an Australian Taipan this year, with a previous incident occurring off the New South Wales coast in March. All 10 passengers and crew members were safely rescued in that earlier incident.
U.S. Officials’ Tribute and Cooperation
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who was present in Brisbane for a meeting, expressed his condolences and appreciation for the dedication and service of the missing air crew. He emphasized the importance of rigorous training to ensure preparedness during crises. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also paid tribute to the crew and highlighted the strong bond between the United States and Australia.
Future Plans for Taipans
Australia had previously announced its decision to retire the MRH-90 Taipan helicopters by December 2024, thirteen years ahead of the original schedule, due to their unreliability. They are set to be replaced with 40 U.S. Black Hawks, designed by Lockheed Martin, which are known for their reliability. The Taipan fleet had faced various problems since its introduction in 2007, with instances of grounding due to issues with tail rotor blades and doors in the past.