Three US Marines have been confirmed dead after their MV-22B Osprey crashed on a remote Northern Territory Island on Sunday.
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The distinctive tilt-rotor aircraft, which had 23 on board, was taking part in Exercise Predators Run during the incident on Melville Island, 60 kilometres off the coast from Darwin.
No Australian personnel are thought to be involved, though a further five crew are in serious condition and were evacuated to Darwin Hospital.
The Osprey has been involved in five fatal crashes since 2012, causing 16 deaths, including an accident in California in June 2022 that saw the aircraft suffer “catastrophic, unpreventable, and unanticipated mechanical failure”.
NT Chief Minister Natasha Fyles called the latest crash a “terrible incident” and revealed the NT’s largest hospital had declared an emergency response.
“There’s three operating theatres available, so we can absolutely cater for the numbers of casualties that we are already seeing coming through Royal Darwin Hospital,” Fyles said on Sunday.
“One patient is in Royal Darwin Hospital in theatre being operated on presently.
“Four more patients are enrolled on hospital; we have more [injured people] arriving as we speak.”
NT Police Commissioner Michael Murphy revealed a military aircraft was deployed to help almost immediately after the Osprey went down, with further reports suggesting a CareFlight helicopter was also dispatched to the scene. The Osprey is thought to be one of two of the aircraft types flying at the time.
In total, more than 2,500 personnel from the US, Australia, the Philippines, Timor-Leste, and Indonesia are taking part in Exercise Predators Run.
RSL Australia president Greg Melick said the deaths illustrated the everyday risks service personnel face.
“This is a catastrophic event, and we express our sympathy to the friends, families, and colleagues of all those impacted,” said Melick.
“Following the deaths of four Australian soldiers in a helicopter crash off the Queensland coast in late July, it provides a timely reminder of the bravery of those who serve Australia and our allied nations.
“While we mourn those lost and extend our sincere wishes to the injured for a speedy recovery, we cannot underscore the importance of these military exercises to ensure Australia’s international interoperability with our allies and our preparedness in what is an uncertain strategic environment.”
Melick was referring to the Australian Taipan that crashed into the sea south of Hamilton Island in July while participating in the Talisman Sabre.
All four men onboard were later confirmed to have died, but search teams have already recovered the vital “black box” recorder.
The four were named as Captain Daniel Lyon, Lieutenant Maxwell Nugent, Warrant Officer Class Two Joseph Laycock, and Corporal Alexander Naggs.
The Taipan fleet was grounded in 2019, 2021, and earlier this year after an aircraft ditched off the NSW South Coast.
Initially purchased for $3.7 billion in 2005–06 to replace ageing Black Hawk and Sea King fleets, the locally-assembled Taipan has proven a headache for Defence, with statistics showing just 46 per cent of MRH-90 aircraft allocated to flying units were available to fly in 2021.
The incident in March saw 10 ADF personnel on a routine counter-terrorism training exercise rescued from the water near Jervis Bay, with two sustaining minor injuries.