Tragedy struck during the Talisman Sabre 2023 joint military exercise when a helicopter carrying four Australian airmen crashed into the waters off the coast of Queensland. The incident occurred on Friday around 10:30 pm local time, leaving authorities and military personnel scrambling to conduct search and rescue operations.
The MRH90 helicopter was involved in a two-aircraft mission at the time of the accident. Despite intensive search efforts, the four aircrew members on board have not been located yet, prompting grave concern for their safety and wellbeing.
In a joint statement, Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese expressed their distress over the situation and emphasized the unwavering commitment to finding the missing airmen. Both military and civilian search and rescue aircraft, along with watercraft, have been diligently combing the area near Lindeman Island, approximately 10 miles (15 kilometers) off the coast of Queensland, in hopes of locating the helicopter or any survivors.
During the ongoing search operations, a rescue helicopter identified what is suspected to be wreckage from the missing MRH90 near the crash site. Authorities have yet to confirm whether the debris indeed belongs to the ill-fated aircraft.
The incident has garnered international attention, especially considering the high-profile nature of the Talisman Sabre drills, which involve both the United States and Australia. The joint military exercise, held biennially, brings together around 30,000 troops from 13 nations and encompasses various maneuvers such as amphibious landings, simulated air and ground combat, and naval operations.
The US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who were present in Australia for talks with military leadership, have also been actively involved in discussing and monitoring the search efforts for the missing airmen.
Australian Brigadier Damian Hill, responsible for overseeing this year's Talisman Sabre drills, made the decision to temporarily suspend the exercises to focus fully on the search and rescue operations.
This unfortunate accident marks the second involving an MRH90 helicopter this year. In a previous incident during a nighttime counterterrorism drill off the coast of New South Wales, all 10 crew members managed to survive, highlighting the inherent risks associated with military training exercises.