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Hope lost for missing Taipan crew, says Marles

RAN sailors from HMAS Brisbane prepare to conduct search and rescue operations in the vicinity of Lindeman Island on Saturday. (Defence)

Defence Minister Richard Marles has said authorities have now lost all hope of finding the four missing crew of the crashed Taipan.

Defence Minister Richard Marles has said authorities have now lost all hope of finding the four missing crew of the crashed Taipan.

He added that defence exercises such as the one they were involved in are critical to securing the country and hailed the men for “making a difference”.

It comes after the helicopter crashed south of Hamilton Island on Friday while participating in Exercise Talisman Sabre, an enormous war game involving 30,000 participants.

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However, the incident has raised questions surrounding the use of the Taipan, which has been involved in multiple groundings and is set to exit the ADF next year.

On Sunday, the four men were named as Captain Daniel Lyon, Lieutenant Maxwell Nugent, Warrant Officer Class Two Joseph Laycock, and Corporal Alexander Naggs.

Speaking at 1pm on Monday, Marles called the crash a “catastrophic incident” and said it was now clear that any hope of finding the men alive had been lost.

“There will be a full investigation, and [we] will come to understand exactly what happened and learn the lessons from it,” he told journalists.

He added that defence exercises are serious and carry risks but are vital.

“These exercises have played a critical part in providing for the collective security and peace of the region in which we live. And so the loss of these four men is a significant and meaningful as the loss of anyone who has worn our nation’s uniform.

“If it is, as we imagine it to be, they died on Friday night, making a difference.

“The people who [are] most in pain in this moment [are the] families of these four men. They have lost loved ones. People most cherished … To them, we are so deeply sorry and so grateful.

“They have every right to feel an intense sense of pride. Amidst the inadequacy of these words that, I wanted to know they stand in the warm embrace of the entire nation.

“My thoughts and prayers go out to the families, and to the friends, to the regiments.”

General Angus Campbell, the Chief of the Defence Force, called on all Australians to pause and reflect on their service.

“Their service matters, and what they do together matters for Australia,” he said.

At one point, the search for the men, based at the Holsworthy Barracks in Sydney, involved upwards of 800 people, including those from the US, Australian and Canadian militaries.

Simon Stuart, head of Army, previously hailed the foursome as being part of a “highly professional, highly skilled aviation unit” and said he “couldn’t be more proud of them”.

He said the Taipan wouldn’t be flown again “until we think it is safe to do so” but added Army still plans to continue to use the aircraft until it is retired from service next year.

“The aim is still 2024. What happens between now and then, from what we learn from this incident, is yet to be determined. We just need a bit of time,” he said.

The views were echoed by Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy, who told ABC’s RN Breakfast earlier on Monday that “extensive risk analysis” took place after its last crash in March.

“The army doesn’t take unnecessary risks. The army mitigated those risks and declared the helicopter safe to fly,” he said.

The Taipan fleet was grounded in 2019, in 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 latest 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.

Its problems led to Defence deciding to replace the fleet with MH-60R Seahawks and UH-60M Black Hawks.

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