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Queensland: Four feared dead after military chopper

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The four men feared dead after a Defence helicopter went down in waters off the Whitsunday Islands have been identified.

Captain Daniel Lyon, Lieutenant Maxwell Nugent, Warrant Officer Class Two Joseph Laycock, and Corporal Alexander Naggs were named by the Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Simon Stuart, as the four involved in the crash.

The crew were members of the Australian Army Aviation’s 6th Aviation Regiment based at the Holsworthy Army barracks in Sydney.

Lieutenant General Stuart said the men’s names had been released with permission from their families.

“I’m focussed on three things: The first and most pressing is to bring Daniel, Alexander, Joseph and Maxwell home to their families,” he said at the Holsworthy barracks on Sunday.

“The second is to support their families and their mates. And the third is to support the important work of the air safety team as they work out what went wrong and why.”

Search and rescue teams resumed the search for the crew of the missing MRH-90 Taipan on Sunday but it’s feared the crew members are unlikely to still be alive.

Chief of Joint Operations, Lieutenant General Greg Bilton said the large-scale search could be impeded by the conditions in the Whitsundays, which is “renowned for currents”.

“So you do get movement of any debris in the water. So that is a very important factor that affects search and rescue,” he said.

“The waves and the actual conditions at the moment are moderate. So there’s some challenge but it’s not insurmountable. It’s not stopping operations.”

He said he was “confident,” the Australian Defence Force (ADF) was capable of finding the fuselage and “our four mates”.

The chopper was conducting joint military joint military exercises as part of Operation Talisman Sabre when it crashed at about 10:30pm on Friday.

Defence Minister Richard Marles said on Sunday there was a “very real sense of poignancy and an anxiety” associated with the search and rescue.

“Our thoughts are very much with the aircrew and of course their families,” Mr Marles told troops participating in the Talisman Sabre drills in Townsville on Sunday.

“This accident makes very clear what this exercise means, the dangers that are involved, the risks that inevitably come with it.

“The significance of it all, particularly given the events of Friday night, is made very plain and very clear. We owe all of you an enormous debt of gratitude.”

In a brief statement in Canberra, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the nation’s “thoughts and prayers” were with the families of the missing crewmen.

Earlier, NSW Premier Chris Minns said his heart was with the families who “must be hurting this morning”.

He confirmed one of those feared dead was the son of a senior NSW police officer.

“(They’re) a family that’s given so much to the people of this state, of this country,” he told Sky News on Sunday.

“I can only imagine what they’re going through today. It’s just devastating.”

More than 800 personnel across military and emergency services are joined the search and rescue mission, including specialist navy divers.

Defence Force Chief General Angus Campbell said “a number” of Australian and US ships were involved in the search, including the HMAS Adelaide, HMAS Brisbane and the USS Miguel Keith.

He also acknowledged the support provided by the Queensland Police Service, the state’s emergency services, and the ADF’s international partners.

“I’d just like to acknowledge the reach out and the support that’s been provided by our allies and partners, particularly the United States,” he said.

“Once again, the same resolute support that we’re receiving now, as we’ve received in the past and we’re grateful for it.”

An investigation has been launched into the cause of the crash. The entire MH-90 Taipan fleet have been grounded until further notice.

It’s the second time an Australian MH-90 has been involved in an emergency this year after a helicopter ditched into Jervis Bay on the NSW south coast during routine training.

But Lieutenant General Stuart has rejected suggestions the four men should not have flown the Taipan due to known issues with the chopper.

“We’ve understood those issues and we have worked to ensure that we’ve mitigated those risks,” he said.

“We don’t fly if we don’t think it’s safe and that continues to be the case.”

An exclusion zone remains in place in waters south of Hamilton Island and incorporates waters from the southern tip of Long Island, east to Perseverance Island, south to Cole Island, and west to the mainland at Round Head.

Exclusion zones also extend to 1000m from any military vessel.

It is understood all debris is being delivered to nearby warship Brisbane.

Members of the pubic who locate debris are urged not to handle it and to contact police.

Talisman Sabre exercise director Brigadier Damian Hill said the water is “quite deep” in the area being searched and the arrival of HMAS Huon on Sunday would assist with the search.

“HMAS Huon has some of our more experienced divers should we need to look under the water for wreckage as the search and rescue continues,” he said.

What is Exercise Talisman Sabre?

The chopper was taking part in Exercise Talisman Sabre, which has been paused in light of the accident.

According to the Australian Army, the MRH-90 Taipan aircraft is one of the “most advanced tactical troop transport helicopters of the 21st century.”

The ADF currently has 47 of the choppers – which can reach maximum speeds of 300km per hour – through the Advanced Helicopter Program for Australia.

The MRH-90 also reportedly has the “highest crashworthy standards”.

It comes only a week after Talisman Sabre commenced, with the deputy prime minister kicked off the exercise in an opening ceremony in Canberra.

“It is a privilege to officially open Talisman Sabre 2023 and welcome all participating nations,” Mr Marles said on July 21.

Talisman Sabre, is the ADF’s biggest training exercise, involving more than 31,000 soldiers, marines, sailors and pilots from across 13 countries.

US Marines and Australian soldiers have been conducting exercises together in the Whitsundays as part of Talisman Sabre.

Australian and US forces have been joined by officers from Canada, Fiji, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, the UK, France and Germany.

Support services for ADF personnel

Defence all-hours support line 1800 628 036

Defence Member and Family Helpline 1800 624 608

US pledges to stand by Aussies after Talisman Sabre crash tragedy

For information on how to access mental health professionals 1800 IMSICK (1800 467 425)

Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling (formerly VVCS) 1800 011 046

Department of Veterans’ Affairs 1800 838 372

Originally published as Police officer’s son among four feared dead in crash near Hamilton Island

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