At least four air crew members were feared dead on Friday after an Australian Defence Force (ADF) helicopter crashed into the ocean off the Queensland state coast during joint military exercises with the US, officials said. The war games were put on hold on Saturday following the incident.
The MRH-90 Taipan helicopter went down in the waters close to Hamilton Island, a Great Barrier Reef tourist resort, about 890km north of Queensland capital Brisbane, at about 10:30 pm on Friday.
Defence Minister Richard Marles said a rescue operation to find the missing helicopter and its crew was underway in the area and their families were informed. Reports said debris were spotted by a rescue helicopter on Saturday morning near Dent Island in the Whitsunday Islands group.
The crashed helicopter was taking part in Talisman Sabre, a biennial joint US-Australian military exercise that lasts for two weeks. This year's exercise involves 13 countries and over 30,000 military personnel, in a show of force and unity amid China's military build-up in the region.
Talisman Sabre military exercise director Brigadier Damian Hill said the war games were put on hold following the crash. "I've initiated a Pause-Ex across Australia for all participants of Talisman Sabre to enable them all, regardless of their nation, to reach out and let their families know what is going on," Hill said in an official transcript.
The war games are taking place largely in Queensland and various other locations across Australia. It includes mock land and air combat, as well as amphibious landings.
Marles said it was taking part in a mission that involved a second helicopter, which immediately started a search and rescue operation. “Defence exercises, which are so necessary for the readiness of our defence force, are serious. They carry risk. As we desperately hope for better news during the course of this day we are reminded about the gravity of the act which comes with wearing our nation's uniform,” he told the media.