The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps announced early Sunday morning the suspension of search and rescue operations for three Marines missing after their aircraft crashed into the ocean off the northeastern Australia coast a day earlier.
Operations have shifted to recovery efforts after “continuous sustained search efforts supported by aircraft and ships” did not locate the missing personnel, officials from the III Marine Expeditionary Force said in a statement. (RELATED: US Marine Aircraft Crashes Off The Coast Of Australia)
Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne said the Australian military will provide ships and dive teams to assist the U.S. recovery effort.
“As the sea state permits, recovery efforts will be conducted to further search, assess and survey the area, in coordination and with assistance from the Australian Defense Force,” III Marine Expeditionary Force said. “Recovery and salvage operations can take several months to complete, but can be extended based on several environmental factors.”
An MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft carrying 26 U.S. Marines crashed on Saturday when a “mishap” occurred after launching from the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6). Rescue teams from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and the Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group were able to recover 23 of the crew members shortly after the aircraft went into the water.
U.S. defense officials have not released specifics about what caused the aircraft to go down, saying only that the incident is under investigation.
The MV-22 Osprey has been involved in several crashes resulting in deaths and injuries to U.S. troops over the past decade. In December 2016, five crew members of an Osprey had to be rescued when their aircraft was forced to make a shallow water landing off Okinawa.
More recently, two U.S. troops were injured when a Marine MV-22 made a “hard landing” during an operation in Yemen in January. Due to damage sustained in the landing, the Osprey could not take off again and had to be destroyed on site.
Saturday’s crash occurred during “regularly scheduled operations,” according to Pentagon officials. Weather does not appear to have been a factor, as Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology described wind and atmospheric conditions at the time of the crash as “benign,” reports Reuters.
The Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group had been in the waters off Queensland, Australia as part of the massive Talisman Sabre joint training exercise between U.S. and Australian armed forces, which ended on July 25. Australia’s Payne said Saturday that a survey ship was heading to the search area and a navy diving team was “at short notice readiness to support any further requirements.”
“Our thoughts are with all those affected by this tragic event and the Australian Government stands ready to support the U.S. further in any way we can,” she said in a statement.
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