31 July 2023
SUBJECTS: Taipan helicopter crash, MRH-90 Taipan helicopter operations.
PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Let's go back to Canberra now. Joining us live, the Minister for Defence Personnel. This is in regards, obviously, to our top story, Matt Keogh. Matt, good to see you this morning. Thanks for your time. Can I just ask what the latest information you have when it comes to that widened search off central Queensland this morning?
MATT KEOGH, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE PERSONNEL: Well, the search for our four missing personnel in Captain Lyon and Lieutenant Nugent and Warrant Officer Laycock and Corporal Naggs continues. We've been adding additional capability to that search and obviously, we continue to receive assistance from the United States as well as from the Queensland Emergency Services there as well. And we will continue this search. It's our most important line of effort, as you would imagine, but also providing support to their families at this difficult time while their loved ones are missing, as well as providing support to their units, 6th Aviation in NSW, and the broader Defence family. But the search continues and it's our absolute priority.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Are you any closer to working out what happened, Matt?
MINISTER FOR DEFENCE PERSONNEL: The air safety investigation people are now in Queensland. That investigation is underway. Obviously, some debris has been recovered, but the main airframe has not. So, the investigation started, but we don’t have - we have not progressed into what the cause of this incident is, at this stage. Our key focus is on finding our people.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Yeah, no doubt, but when you're looking at some of the particulars, the evidence that we've got so far - it was calm weather, Matt. There was not even enough time to radio for help. The helicopter has broken up into literally dozens of pieces. So, it was a high impact crash and given it was such a short space of time, it's a catastrophic failure here. Would you speculate that it's some kind of engine malfunction?
MINISTER FOR DEFENCE PERSONNEL: Well, I don't think it's helpful to speculate on the cause of what's occurred here at this stage. Our key focus is on the ongoing search and supporting the families, at this time. The investigation, of course, is very important. We've grounded the helicopter fleet at this stage until we learn more so that we can make sure that ongoing operation of the helicopter into the future is as safe as possible. Just as we have from any previous incidents. We’ve always made sure that we've learnt from those and implemented mitigations. To ensure safety of our people is of course our highest priority now.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Fair enough. You just sort of answered my next question. I was going to ask; will the Taipan be permanently grounded? But what you're saying there, it might not be.
MINISTER FOR DEFENCE PERSONNEL: Well, we need to see what's occurred here. We need to look at the investigation and see what the learnings are. The Taipan is coming out of service at the end of next year and we'll need to see what the causes are and whether additional mitigations need to be put in place before it can resume operation. That's something in the future I can't speculate about that. And as I say, our safety of our personnel is paramount.
What's occurred on the weekend does highlight and remind people, though, that there's always an inherent risk in all of the activities of our Defence force, whether they're on operations or whether they're conducting exercises and training. And that's why we always seek to mitigate that risk as much as we can to ensure safety. But right now, the key focus of all of those involved in the search, including people who know these four missing soldiers, is on finding them and, of course, supporting their families and their broader Defence family.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Yeah, I understand that most certainly. But how can the use of the Taipan proceed with not one, but several crashes, several incidents now?
MINISTER FOR DEFENCE PERSONNEL: Well, the most recent incident, there were learnings that came out of that and mitigations that were implemented. And the air safety investigation is not yet finally complete on that. But there were things that we took into account to ensure the continued safe operation of the helicopter. I can't speculate further than that, of course you'll appreciate, until we understand what's actually happened here.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay. Matt Keogh. I appreciate your time. Thank you. We'll talk to you soon.