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Helicopter crash puts US-Australia exercise on hold; aircrew still missing

The helicopter went down in the waters off Australia Friday night.
Nicholas Slayton Avatar
An Australian MRH-90 Taipan helicopter is refueled during Talisman Sabre 2023. (Photo by Airman 1st Class Tylir Meyer/ U.S. Air Force)

A large joint American and Australian military exercise is on pause after a helicopter crashed Friday night with four Australian service members on board.

The aircrew has yet to be found. Search and rescue teams located some of the wreckage of the helicopter. Soon after the crash, the Australian Defense Force announced that Talisman Sabre, a large-scale exercise taking place across Australia, has been halted as a result. 

Four people are missing after the MRH-90 Taipan went down in the waters near Lindeman Island in Queensland state, in the country’s east. The helicopter was flying with another aircraft, which was able to launch search and rescue operations soon after. 

“As Exercise Director, I’ve initiated a Pause-Ex across Australia for all participants of Talisman Sabre to enable them all, regardless of their nation, to reach out and let their families know what is going on,” Brigadier Damian Hill, the exercise’s director, said in a briefing earlier today.

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Hill later said that a limited part of Talisman Sabre had restarted but along the western and northern parts of Australia. He said that the ADF’s MRH-90 Taipan fleet has been grounded for the time being. 

Nations participating in the exercise are joining the search and rescue effort. American, Australian, and Canadian helicopters are flying over the crash site, and Australia has sent naval elements to the waters.

Both Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken are in Australia. Earlier on Saturday they issued brief statements offering support for the families of the missing aircrew. 

The Talisman Sabre joint exercise runs every other year, encompassing a range of mock assaults and drills in the water and on land. This year’s 10 edition featured more than 30,000 troops from 13 countries including Canada, Germany, and Japan, although the largest contingents were American and Australian. It is one of several multinational military exercises the United States takes part in, aimed at joint defense preparations against what is seen as a threat from China. The 15-day operation started on July 22 and was set to end on Aug. 4. It’s not clear how long the full exercise will be halted as a result of the crash.

The U.S. military deployed thousands of troops, as well as several warships, an aircraft carrier, and large artillery components to Australia for Talisman Sabre. This year’s exercise features M1777 howitzers and M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, the same weapons that the U.S. has given to Ukraine and the country’s military have used to devastating effect against Russia. 

This is a developing story.

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