Talisman Sabre MRH-90 incident joint press conference, Townsville

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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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30 July 2023




SUNDAY, 30 JULY 2023

SUBJECTS: Talisman Sabre MRH-90 incident. 

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: On this day, at this moment, all of our thoughts, and all of our prayers are for Captain Lyon, Lieutenant Nugent, Warrant Officer Laycock and Corporal Naggs, the four aircrew of the MRH-90, part of the 6th Aviation Regiment, based at Holsworthy, the Australian Army helicopter which went down in waters off Hamilton Island on Friday night. As has been said in the course of yesterday and today, there is now a major international effort engaged in the search and rescue of the crew, which is involving hundreds of Defence Force personnel. Wreckage of the helicopter has been found, but the main body of the airframe is yet to be located. There are specialist assets which are on task right now which are doing that job. Our thoughts are with the aircrew. Our thoughts are with their families and with their teammates who we've met today, and who will be experiencing an enormous degree of anxiety in this moment. This accident is a reminder of the unique significance that comes from service in the Australian Defence Force.

GENERAL ANGUS CAMPBELL, CHIEF OF THE DEFENCE FORCE: I'd like to express my sincere thanks to our international partners and to all of our aviation team, Army, Air Force and Navy who are contributing to the search and rescue effort which is ongoing and which is bringing out the very best of our people. To the families, to the friends, to the teammates in this very, very difficult time my sincere support and commitment that we can do everything we can to determine the location and to see this search and rescue effort undertaken as expeditiously and as effectively as possible. To the people from 6th Aviation Regiment to 5th Aviation here in Townsville to across the community who I and Chief of Joint Operations and the Commander of 16 Brigade have been engaging with, as well as the Deputy Prime Minister thank you for your service and thank you for the effort that you're committing to take care of our people and to see this through. Thank you.

LIEUTENANT-GENERAL GREG BILTON, CHIEF OF JOINT OPERATIONS: Good afternoon. Since late Friday evening, early Saturday morning, there has been an ongoing, coordinated and comprehensive air and maritime search and rescue effort in the Whitsundays region. As I speak to you today, there are a number of Australian and US ships on station, they include HMAS Adelaide, HMAS Brisbane and the USS Miguel Keith. There are also specialist divers who commenced operations this morning almost immediately after arrival and we seek to continue to find the full fuselage of that aircraft. That work is detailed and is in deep cooperation with the Queensland Emergency Services led by the Queensland Police Service. I'd like to just acknowledge the support that has been provided by the Queensland Police Service and the Emergency Services more broadly. Equally, the community of Proserpine and the surrounding Whitsunday area and the support they have provided to our responding teams, both those in civil authorities and those in the military. And lastly, 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. Once again, the same resolute support that we're receiving now as we've received in the past, and we're grateful for it. Thank you.

MARLES: Questions?

JOURNALIST: Yes, what is actually paused right at this moment in terms of the Talisman Sabre exercise?

LIEUTENANT-GENERAL BILTON: So, the exercise has recommenced. It recommenced at 1200 hours yesterday. What we did pause was the special operations activities in the Whitsunday area. And equally, you'd be aware that the MRH-90 has been grounded until we better understand what's occurred regarding the accident. Thank you.

JOURNALIST: Lieutenant-General, can you give us an idea of the conditions that the search and rescue teams are encountering? Like, is this - are there particularly strong currents, is it the airframe, how deep the water is?

LIEUTENANT-GENERAL BILTON: Yes, in fact, the Whitsundays area is renowned for currents and so you do get some movement of any debris in the water. So, that is a very important factor that affects searching and rescue. 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. And then, of course, the weather can play a factor as well in the search operations and may from time to time impact aerial surveillance activities. But I'm confident we've got the range of capabilities we need to be able to find the fuselage and our four mates. Thanks.

JOURNALIST: If I can ask CDF, what is the future of these aircraft? At one point you said that the MRH-90 was an extraordinary helicopter. Do you still have that view? And is there any chance that we could speed up getting the Black Hawks?

GENERAL CAMPBELL: At the moment, we're focused on the search and rescue operation and we'll continue to undertake that and do it as effectively and completely as possible. In terms of the aircraft, there will be an investigation, as there always is in these circumstances, and we will look to that to understand what has occurred here. Thank you.

JOURNALIST: Mr Marles, could you perhaps give us a little bit more of an idea of what this investigation might look into? For example, there's been reporting previously about problems with a software patch that perhaps wasn't applied across the fleet. Will that be part of the investigation as you understand it? What's the scope, please?

MARLES: Well, as you'll appreciate right now, our focus is on the search and rescue. I mean, the accident occurred on Friday night and there is much work still to be done there. There will, of course, be a full investigation into this accident so that we can properly understand exactly what has happened and make sure that all the lessons that can be learned from this are learned from it.


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