Interview with Karl Stefanovic and Sarah Abo, Nine, Today Show

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The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

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02 6277 7800

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23 March 2023

KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: We are standing by now for the Defence Minister. Richard Marles joins us from Canberra. Richard, I mean, looking at that right now, I think you can see it. Tell us what happened and what we know this morning.

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, last night at about nine o’clock, the helicopter that you can see on your screen was involved in a counter terrorism maritime exercise in and around Jervis Bay. It's part of routine exercises, which is done by the Tactical Assault Group East. There were both Navy clearance divers and Army Special Forces on board. While the helicopter was doing a routine extraction exercise it lost power – the main rotor lost power – the crew were able to shut down the rotor, which is in really a textbook fashion, and were able to ditch the helicopter in Jervis Bay itself. I think the thing to really point out at this moment is that this was an extremely professional, textbook response to, obviously, a terribly frightening situation.

The result is that all ten have really pretty well walked away from this. There are two minor injuries. Someone's hit their head, another of the personnel has taken on some seawater, but they're being looked at and I think they'll be fine. But it is an incredible act on the part of the crew in managing to get the helicopter down in a manner where pretty well everyone's able to walk away. We've now got an operational pause, obviously, on the MRH-90. That's the kind of helicopter that you're looking at on the screen now. And an investigation is underway as to why the actual rotor stopped and we don't have answers to that yet.

STEFANOVIC: It is interesting, too. I mean, the fact that the rotor is stopping. If you've got a little bit of height, on my rudimentary understanding of these things through helicopter training here at the Nine Network is that you need a little bit of height for an auto rotation, that wasn't that high off the ground. So it makes it even more difficult, doesn't it? And the skill level here?

MARLES: Yeah, look, there's actually a number of questions I now want to ask you, given what you said, but we'll come back to that. The skill level here is amazing. And you're right. When I was briefed on this, that's exactly the question I asked. I mean, they were not far off the ground and it mattered to shut down the engine, obviously, so that the ditching could happen in a safer way. But it's just another moment – in the work that I do, I'm constantly amazed at the professionalism of our servicemen and women, and I think this is just another occasion where you just feel their professionalism, their ability to act in a crisis, and that's – under extreme pressure – is able to save lives. And that's exactly what's happened here.


SARAH ABO, HOST: And Richard, what happens now to this chopper in particular? Obviously, you mentioned there'll be investigations to try to determine what happened. We know the witnesses heard an explosion. What happens now?

MARLES: Well, there are investigation crews on site and you can kind of see that with the pictures that you're showing. The helicopter has been able to be recovered, obviously, and as I said, importantly, there is an operational pause in respect of all of the helicopters that we have of that kind. There'll be a full investigation. The critical question is, why did the engine stop? That's what will be examined. But I think also the manner in which the crew has managed to ditch this in a safe way.

STEFANOVIC: Have you managed to speak to – I know it's very early – to any of the crew or any of the personnel on the ground?

MARLES: Look, I haven't I've spoken to the Chief of Army this morning to get a sense of what's happened and I should say all the crew being looked after, their family were notified again in a very prompt way, so everyone knew that everyone aboard was safe, but in due course that will happen.

STEFANOVIC: It's a big, heavy kind of old-ish aircraft, the Taipan, is it not? I'm not 100 per cent certain on that. But is this kind of model of aircraft one that is due for retirement, or are you happy with the ones that are out there?

MARLES: Look, we've had the MRH-90s in the Defence Force for a considerable amount of time. We actually are changing them over the next period to Blackhawks. I'm not sure how old the specific helicopter is. These airframes are used around the world, but this is actually a helicopter, so it's a modern airframe in that sense, but this is a helicopter that we are going to be replacing with Blackhawks.

STEFANOVIC: Okay. And look, they're maintained incredibly well as well. So, yeah, it's interesting. We'll let you go. Anything more on that you can share?

MARLES: Look, that's about it for now, but obviously we will be engaging in this investigation and learning as much as we can as quickly as we can.

STEFANOVIC: Defence Minister, really appreciate you being on. Thank you.

ABO: Thanks for your time.


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