Australia helicopter crash: no hope of survivors after four aircrew go missing in military exercise

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The helicopter went missing on Friday night

There is no hope of locating the survivors of the four aircrew members who went missing after an Australian army helicopter crashed off the Queensland state coast, officials said. The incident took place during a joint military Australian-US exercise.

A search involving US, Canadian and Australian personnel is under way to find the crew, who are all Australian men. A significant amount of wreckage was recovered, pointing to a "catastrophic incident", Defence minister Richard Marles told reporters on Monday (31 July).

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The missing soldiers onboard the aircraft were identified by the army as Capt Danniel Lyon, Lt Maxwell Nugent, Warrant Officer Class Two Joseph Laycock and Cpl Alexander Naggs.

All of them belonged to the Sixth Aviation Regiment, based in Sydney.

The MRH-90 Taipan helicopter went down near Lindeman Island, a Great Barrier Reef tourist resort, at about 11pm on Friday (28 July) and debris, appearing to be from a helicopter had been recovered.

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.

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A MRH-90 Taipan helicopter, similar to the one seen here in 2021, went down during a night-time military exercise (Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)A MRH-90 Taipan helicopter, similar to the one seen here in 2021, went down during a night-time military exercise (Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)
A MRH-90 Taipan helicopter, similar to the one seen here in 2021, went down during a night-time military exercise (Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images) | Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Mr Marles said the helicopter ditched, which refers to an emergency landing on water.

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.”

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.”

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Brigadier Damian Hill, the exercise director of Exercise Talisman Sabre, said the exercise was postponed on Saturday but had restarted limited activity later in the day. However, Australia grounded its Taipan fleet as a precaution.

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

Mr 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, Mr Marles and foreign minister Penny Wong.

Mr 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.

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“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.”

Mr 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.

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.

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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.

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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