AN AMERICAN military helicopter has crashed off the coast of Queensland, with at least three US Marines missing, feared dead.
The helicopter — an MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor helicopter, which can operate from aircraft carriers — was in Australia to be part of the giant Australian-US military exercise Talisman Sabre, which has just concluded in Queensland.
Military sources said the accident happened as the aircraft attempted to land on the USS Ronald Reagan ship.
It is understood the aircraft crashed off the coast of Shoalwater Bay near Rockhampton in North Queensland in the late afternoon on Saturday.
The Sunday Telegraph understands 23 of the 26 personnel on board had been accounted for.
A search and rescue effort was under way last night, with boats and warships searching for the missing Marines.
The US Marine Corps released a statement last night saying there was an “active search and rescue operation ongoing for servicemembers involved in an MV-22 mishap off the east coast of australia.
Ship’s small boats and aircraft from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group are conducting the search and rescue operations.”
The V-22 has had a controversial safety record, with the latest crash one in a string incidents that have resulted in 39 fatalities over 26 years.
During testing between 1991 to 2000 there were four crashes that resulted in 30 people being killed. Since becoming operational in 2007 there have been five further crashes and several other incidents that have resulted in a further nine deaths.
Four Bell-Boeing MV-22 Osprey aircraft were in Australia from US Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 268, landing in Darwin at the end of April.
The aircraft, resembling a cross between a helicopter and airplane, has capabilities including taking off vertically and travelling much faster than a helicopter.
In July the aircraft was posted to Queensland as part of the military exercise Talisman Sabre, involving 33,000 personnel, 33 ships and 200 aircraft from Australia, the US, New Zealand, Japan and Canada.
The battle phase of the training exercise centred around the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Central Queensland.
Personnel from HMAS Canberra conducted trials with the Osprey to increase capability between US and Australian military aircraft.
“The exercise was to prove (Australian personnel) could operate a broad a range of aircraft,” commander Adrian Capner said.
“It shows we are capable of interacting with our coalition partners, particularly the United States.”
This was the first time that an Osprey has made a trans-Pacific flight.
In May this year, 21-year-old Australian soldier Stuart Reddan died at the Shoalwater Bay training area when a tree branch fell on him during a training exercise.