- by Derek Cai
- BBC News, Singapore
There is no longer any hope of finding survivors from a military helicopter crash, Australia’s defense minister says.
A significant amount of debris was found, indicating a “catastrophic incident,” Richard Marles told reporters Monday.
The accident happened during a multinational military exercise off Lindeman Island on Friday evening.
Australian authorities have launched a full investigation.
Australia’s army chief had grounded a fleet of military helicopters after the crash, which left four crew members missing and now feared dead.
Lieutenant General Simon Stuart said none of the army’s 45 MRH-90 Taipan helicopters – the craft involved in the accident – would be flown again until they were found safe.
Australia has grounded its taipans in the past for security reasons.
“We are not flying the MRH-90 today and will not fly until we believe it is safe to do so,” Gen Stuart told reporters in Sydney on Sunday.
Friday’s crash happened around 22:30 local time (12:30 GMT) over the Whitsundays, a group of islands off the coast of Queensland.
The missing soldiers aboard the plane were identified by the Army as Captain Danniel Lyon, Lt Maxwell Nugent, Warrant Officer Class Two Joseph Laycock and Cpl Alexander Naggs.
All belonged to the Sixth Aviation Regiment, based in Sydney.
The helicopter went down during exercises as part of Exercise Talisman Sabre, the massive training exercise which brings together 30,000 military personnel from Australia, the United States and several other nations.
Canberra had announced before the crash that it would replace its aging European-made Taipan helicopters with US-made Black Hawks.
Officials had complained that they had to repeatedly ground the fleet for maintenance and safety issues.
As recently as March, the fleet was pulled from the sky after an engine failure in one of the helicopters during a training exercise forced the crew to dive into the sea off the coast of New South Wales.
There were no injuries during the training exercise in March. The other MRH-90s were returned to service on 6 April with “risk restrictions”.
Gen Stuart said the current aim was to keep the taipans in service until 2024, but “what happens between now and then, from what we learn from this incident, is yet to be determined”.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese described the recent crash as a stark reminder “that there are no safe or easy days for those who serve in the name of our country”.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, speaking in the northern city of Townsville, said the US would provide any assistance it could.