Ladies and gentlemen, we gather today to remember and recognise the 25th anniversary of the 1996 Black Hawk disaster.
This tragic incident claimed the lives of 18 of Australia’s finest.
It remains the worst military aviation loss of life in our peacetime history.
The events of 12 June 1996 left a terrible and permanent imprint on so many.
On the families of the fallen. On their loved ones. And on their fellow men and women in uniform.
That night, two Black Hawk helicopters – Black 1 and Black 2 – collided 30 seconds out from their landing zone during a training exercise near Townsville.
Tragedy struck, as it so often does, amid confusion and almost instantly.
A series of unexpected turns resulted in a sudden and cataclysmic high-velocity mid-air crash.
Both aircraft impacted the red earth with immense force.
Amid pandemonium in the dark, crash survivors, troops from the other helicopters, and exercise staff braved immense heat and exploding ammunition to fight raging fires, rescue the wounded, and recover the dead.
Their selfless actions were the in the finest traditions of the Australian Defence Force.
Amidst this hellish catastrophe, survivors and responders acted with remarkable grit and strength of character.
It was a heroic demonstration of mateship in the face of adversity.
Despite their valiant efforts, 11 men were lost on Black 1.
A further seven men perished aboard Black 2.
That fateful June night was a jarring reminder about the risks our troops face, even in training operations during peacetime.
A reminder of what it means to be a member of the ADF.
Those who enlist do so knowing it comes with risks.
That it can entail struggle, hardship, or even the ultimate sacrifice.
But it is the acceptance of such risks that makes our ADF personnel and their loved ones extraordinary.
Every year, thousands of young and aspirational Australians eschew more comfortable paths, choosing instead to serve their community and their country in uniform.
This determination – to be a force for good,
This determination – to stand up for our values, despite the inherent risks.
Is what makes our servicemen and women our finest Australians.
At the same time, it is also what makes the pain of their loss so overwhelming.
They are the best of us. And we grieve the deepest when the brightest lights are taken from our lives.
Even now, a quarter of a century after the Black Hawk Disaster, the painful process of mourning, healing, and recovery continues.
We can mitigate, but we cannot eliminate risk, danger, or tragedy in life.
So long as evil exists in this world, Australians will rely on men and women in uniform to keep them safe. Ready for whatever dangers may be on or below the horizon.
We ask a great deal of our Defence Force personnel. And they give us everything.
We ask young, aspirational, idealistic Australians to put themselves in harm’s way. To use lethal force in our nation’s name. To endure significant personal and family sacrifice.
And so, as Australians, we owe our troops and their loved ones the deepest respect of a grateful nation.
It is in this spirit that we, today, remember the 18 exceptional Australians lost 25 years ago.
The nation is grateful for their service, and continues to mourn their loss. We will forever honour their name.
We also acknowledge the impact of the disaster on:
The Special Air Service Regiment.
The 5th Aviation Regiment.
The City of Townsville.
All those affected.
Lest we forget.