Australian Department of Defence issues statement on NH90 accident

Australian Department of Defence issues statement on NH90 accident

3-Aug-2023 Source: Australian DoD

Transcript of media update in Brisbane

LIEUTENANT GENERAL BILTON: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Lieutenant General Greg Bilton. I’m the Chief of Joint Operations. I would like to update you on the recovery operations for the MRH-90 Taipan helicopter which impacted waters near Lindeman Island on Friday, the 28th of July. Ongoing search and recovery operations have recovered a range of aircraft debris and major sections of the fuselage. This has included searches above and below the water surface.

I can now advise that yesterday afternoon, Wednesday the 2 August HMAS Huon’s remotely operated underwater vehicle located a further debris field, including parts of the cockpit of the helicopter. The debris field is consistent with a catastrophic high impact. Sadly, I can confirm unidentified human remains have also been observed in this location by the remotely operated underwater vehicle. Due to the nature of the debris field, positive identification of the remains is unlikely to occur until we recover more of the wreckage.

Army has spoken with the families of the missing soldiers and is providing them with support. We will continue to support the families and other families who have reached out over the coming days and weeks, and as their needs change. In the next 24 hours, HMAS Adelaide will hand over to ADV Reliant, which enables us to incorporate more specific rescue equipment on that vessel. While we continue with the recovery as best we can, poor weather conditions have continued to impact our search efforts. The weather is expected to remain challenging until mid-next week.

We thank the many emergency service personnel, soldiers, sailors and aviators from our international defence partners, civilian agencies and members of the local community for their assistance. Defence is unable to provide further details of the recovery operation or ongoing investigation at this time. Thank you. I will now take questions.

JOURNALIST: Must have been a challenging operation. As you said, the weather has been poor, but attribute to the determination of your personnel to try to resolve this as soon as possible.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL BILTON: Yes, the conditions have been quite difficult both underwater and above the surface. The Whitsundays is renowned for its significant currents, so the team are working through those and as you can see, we are making progress, but it is methodical.

​JOURNALIST: How deep down was that cockpit located underneath the sea?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL BILTON: Approximately 40 metres below the surface.

JOURNALIST: And what sort of logistical challenge does it present to then sort of drag that main airframe back up?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL BILTON: Yeah. Hence, ADV Reliant is a vessel that incorporates more modern equipment that helps us to do that sort of recovery operation. But it will still be a difficult operation at 40 metres of depth.

JOURNALIST: So, how crucial is it to recover as much of the wreckage as possible in terms of forensic examination of the circumstances around the mishap?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL BILTON: So, it is important to collect as much of the debris as we can so we can fully understand how this incident occurred.

JOURNALIST: Have divers already been in the water and how many would be involved in support of ADV Reliant for that lift?

GREG BILTON: Yes. So, there’s a number of dive teams that have been in the area actually since Friday. So, the exercise incorporated some divers. I don’t have an exact figure of divers there, but what I can tell you is I have enough divers in that location to make sure we can continue the mission and sustain it for the coming days and weeks.

JOURNALIST: Without at all pre-empting the outcome of the investigation, which obviously is a long way off, are you satisfied with the extent to which evidence has been gathered so far, given the circumstances?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL BILTON: I am, but you’re also best to ask the Queensland Police Service because everything is handed over to the Queensland Police Service as they will bring it together so the relevant agencies can undertake the investigation. My understanding at this stage is the Queensland Police Service is happy with the custody of the debris that’s been collected.

JOURNALIST: With the remaining MRH-90 fleet grounded, what plans are in place to support the special operations, given that was excused?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL BILTON: Yes. So, we’re working options at the moment on what alternatives might be available. Of course, we have to wait until investigation outcomes are made before we can make a decision about the MRH-90. So, we are just working solutions. We’ve checked with the civil authorities who we would normally support and they are comfortable at this stage with alternate plans we have in place.

​JOURNALIST: It’s not as easy as fast-tracking the Blackhawk. So, given that’s the case, what would that process look like to get that online? How many ‘Mike’ Model Blackhawks are in Australia at the moment and how many pilots are certified to fly?

GREG BILTON: So, as I said, we’re still working through the plan on how we’ll work that capability and the critical roles that those helicopters have played for delivering capability for contingencies. I don’t have a specific answer for you yet.

JOURNALIST: As part of what’s been recovered, the data recording equipment, was that on board? Has that been identified?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL BILTON: Are you talking about the black box?


LIEUTENANT GENERAL BILTON: At this stage, we have not found that.

JOURNALIST: Was anything sent out from before the impact that could help any flight data that was relayed in real time?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL BILTON: No, it was a normal flight in a group of four aircraft flying at the time. And at this stage, all communications were normal before the aircraft impacted the water.

JOURNALIST: How likely is it that that won’t be found? Is it likely that once you can get closer, get more machinery et cetera, in there, you can find it?

GREG BILTON: No. It’s a difficult task, but we will do our absolute best to find it. And as you know, the black box is critical to helping us to understand what’s actually taken place.

JOURNALIST: There’s, obviously, a default amount of bravery for people to sign up for service, but all the same, how are the colleagues of the deceased? Apart from the obvious descriptions of the families, but how are their colleagues coping? What arrangements are in place to assist with the way in which they’re dealing with this?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL BILTON: Look, I’m devastated, and I’m distanced from the actual gentlemen that have been lost, but I can assure you that in the units, it is having a significant impact on them. We’re just making sure that we provide the sort of psychological support and the, I guess, the support for their well-being that’s necessary. The 6th Aviation Regiment has come together. I’m confident their commanders are working hard to work through the challenges that they confront in losing their mates.

  •  Tuesday, 1, August, 2023 – 19:00 PM

    Joint media statement with Queensland Police Service

    Defence offers its deepest condolences to the families of the four soldiers who tragically lost their lives during a training accident off the coast of Queensland on Friday, 28 July 2023.

    Australian Army Captain Danniel Lyon, Lieutenant Maxwell Nugent, Warrant Officer Class Two Joseph Laycock and Corporal Alexander Naggs tragically died when the helicopter they were flying impacted waters off Hamilton Island.

    We recognise that incidents of this nature are deeply upsetting for all involved and this is felt across the Defence community.

    We are particularly aware of the impact this incident has had on the families of the missing soldiers. We will continue to support them over the coming days, weeks and years, and as their needs change.

    Chief of Joint Operations, Lieutenant General Greg Bilton said he was extremely grateful for the ongoing support from our allies and partners.

    “Our focus remains on bringing our people home to their families and supporting the Defence family through this difficult period,” Lieutenant General Bilton said.

    “The significant multinational operation engaged in the search, rescue and recovery effort, involving hundreds of defence force personnel, international military and civilian agencies, will continue.”

    Ongoing operations have recovered a range of aircraft debris and located major sections of the fuselage. The crew have not yet been located.

    Defence continues to work closely with the Queensland Police Service (QPS) to aid the recovery efforts.

    Superintendent Graeme Paine said since the determination has been made that the search and rescue is now a recovery mission, QPS is working to prepare a report for the coroner.

    “Members of the public who locate debris are urged not to handle it and to contact police. Handling of any debris could impact investigations or cause injury,” Superintendent Paine said.

    “An exclusion zone remains in place in waters south of Hamilton Island, and there is also an exclusion zone of 1000 metres from any military vessel, until on-water operations cease.”

    The exclusion zone incorporates waters from the southern tip of Long Island, east to Perseverance Island, south to Cole Island, and west to the mainland at Round Head.

    Queensland police vessels Damian Ledding and Lyle Hoey, as well as QPS police divers, remain on the scene assisting the ADF in its search.

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