31 July 2023
SUBJECTS: Taipan Helicopter crash, Ongoing search operation, Taipan Helicopter fleet.
MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: Let's return to our top story now, the search for the crew of the crashed Taipan helicopter off Hamilton Island. The four men were identified yesterday.
The Minister for Defence Personnel Matt Keogh joins us now from Canberra. Minister, good morning to you.
MATT KEOGH, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE PERSONNEL: Good morning, Michael.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Important again we name these missing aviators. We're speaking of Captain Danniel Lyon, Lieutenant Maxwell Nugent, Warrant Officer Joseph Laycock and Corporal Alexander Naggs. What is the latest on the mission to find them?
MINISTER FOR DEFENCE PERSONNEL: So, Michael, the search is ongoing. This remains a search involving Australian Defence Force personnel, our friends at the United States Defence Force, as well as Queensland emergency services are involved. This is our first priority, is finding our four missing Defence Force members, as well as providing support to their families at this difficult time when their family members are missing. That remains our key priority.
As you'll appreciate there are people involved in this search that are part of the Defence family for the four that are missing as well and they're throwing everything at finding them as soon as we can.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: As far as you know and how extensive a search area are we talking about now? And we do know in a challenging way it's an area known for its strong currents.
MINISTER FOR DEFENCE PERSONNEL: Certainly, it's a challenging environment to be searching in but, you know, the search is continuing. We have now found some parts of wreckage and that assists in the ongoing search that's being undertaken and we've been adding more capability to that search, obviously starting with those personnel that were already in the area and some specialist divers as well have now come into the area as well.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay. And what sort of support is being offered to the men's families?
MINISTER FOR DEFENCE PERSONNEL: So obviously Army is engaging, firstly, through particularly across not just the immediate family but through all of 6th Aviation, which is the unit that these four are from. And we're providing all of the assistance that they may require, counselling support as well.
And can I remind any Defence Force members, family, veterans, they can access support through the Defence Member and Family Helpline or through Open Arms.
So if people need to have a conversation, to get support, that is available and we're making that available of course directly through units as well.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Matt Keogh, you as one of the relevant Ministers would have much more contact than most of us with our Defence Force personnel on a day‑by‑day basis. What does this say about the risk and the challenges faced every single day by men and women who wear our uniform?
MINISTER FOR DEFENCE PERSONNEL: Well, certainly it does highlight the risks that are faced by our Defence Force personnel not just when they're involved in operations but also during exercises. 6th Aviation, the unit that the four missing soldiers are from, works very closely with our special operations command and with those soldiers. And so they are involved in some of the most difficult work that our Defence Force undertakes, and because of that it also increases the inherent danger that can be involved as well. And it's why it's important to undertake exercises and training like they were participating in over the weekend to make sure that they are at their maximum capability and effectiveness, but this all does bring inherent danger.
Having said that, we always make sure that we operate helicopters, other equipment, conduct exercises in the safest way possible to do so. We don't seek to increase risk unnecessarily but there is always an inherent risk in training exercises as well as any operation that our Defence Force undertakes, and it's why it’s so important to provide them the most amazing training that we do and support, not just to them and to their units but to their families at this time.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Let's talk further about risk, because as you know and as our viewers know, these Taipan choppers of course no shortage of problems for Defence. Another one went down in Jervis Bay, New South Wales earlier this year. Shouldn't this entire fleet now be grounded permanently?
MINISTER FOR DEFENCE PERSONNEL: So the fleet is grounded temporarily at this stage whilst the investigation ‑ sorry, whilst the search is under way and there is an air safety investigation that has also commenced.
After the incident earlier this year that you referred to there were mitigations put in place in the operation of the MRH‑90 to improve safety in those operations and we're always looking to improve safety in everything we do in the Defence Force.
In terms of what happens longer term, with the MRH‑90 before they're retired at the end of next year obviously further work needs to be undertaken in terms of investigation. But our focus right now, as you'll understand, is on the search operation and supporting their families as well as their units and their Defence family.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: And I know I speak on behalf of all of our viewers in expressing the hope that all of these men are found in the next few days. Matt Keogh, really appreciate your time this morning, thank you.
MINISTER FOR DEFENCE PERSONNEL: Thank you.