Four airmen are missing after their MRH90 crashed into the ocean off Queensland on Friday
The crash occurred at around 10:30 pm local time on Friday, Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles said, noting that the MRH90 helicopter was flying a two-aircraft mission as part of the Talisman Sabre 2023 drills with the US Marines.
“Sadly, the four aircrew who were on board are yet to be found,” Marles said in a joint statement with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
The Australian Defense Ministry later said “military and civilian search and rescue aircraft and watercraft” were conducting search and rescue efforts near the site of the incident, adding that the helicopter crashed in waters near Lindeman Island, located about 10 miles (15 kilometers) off the coast of Queensland.
According to the Associated Press, a rescue helicopter spotted a wreckage in the vicinity of the suspected crash site, though officials have not confirmed whether the debris came from the missing aircraft.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who are visiting Australia for talks with senior military leadership, spoke about the search efforts on Saturday.
“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,” Austin said.
Australian Brigadier Damian Hill, who directs this year’s iteration of the Talisman Sabre drills, said the exercises would be placed on hold.
Scheduled to run from July 22 through August 4, the wargames are held every two years by Washington and Canberra. This year’s exercise is set to be the largest to date, with some 30,000 troops from 13 nations taking part in a wide range of maneuvers, including amphibious landings, simulated air and ground combat, as well as naval operations.
The crash near Queensland is the second accident involving a MRH90 this year, with another plummeting into the ocean off the coast of New South Wales during a nighttime counterterrorism drill last March. All 10 crewmembers survived.