Three U.S. Marine Corps troops died Sunday after a military aircraft crashed near Darwin, Australia, during a routine training exercise. Five others have been transported to the Royal Darwin Hospital in serious condition.
The aircraft, an MV-22B Osprey that was transporting troops, crashed on Melville Island about 9:30 a.m. local time with 23 personnel on board, according to a statement from the Marine Rotational Force. That force has deployed to Australia every year since 2011 and now consists of 2,500 Marines.
The Marines were taking part in Exercise Predators Run, according to the statement, a joint military exercise also involving soldiers from the Philippines, Indonesia and East Timor.
Recovery efforts are continuing, and an investigation into the cause of the crash is underway, the statement said.
The Osprey is an especially complex aircraft with a troubled history. With two rotor blades above extended wings, it takes off like a helicopter and can fly like a fixed-wing aircraft — which means that pilots need expertise in both.
It has been used by the Marine Corps since the early 1990s, but in 2000, the fleet of Ospreys was grounded after two crashes, including one at night over North Carolina that killed all four Marines on board.
Last year, nine Marines were killed in two separate crashes. One Osprey aircraft crashed in June during a training mission near Glamis, Calif., killing five. Another crashed in a valley in Beiarn, Norway, killing all four on board.
Prof. Peter Dean, the director of foreign policy and defense at the United States Studies Center at the University of Sydney, said the Ospreys had become less problematic over time, and some studies suggest they are no riskier than other combat aircraft, but the crash on Sunday would once again raise doubts about their safety.
“It’s such a unique design,” Professor Dean said. “The first thing everyone will do is ask questions about the platform itself; and then the next question is, what were the flying conditions like? Is there anything out of the ordinary?”
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said that the crash was “tragic,” and that the Australian authorities were focused on “making sure that every support and assistance is given at this difficult time.”
It is the second fatal accident involving aircraft and joint training between the United States and Australia this year. In July, an Australian Army MRH-90 Taipan helicopter crashed into waters near the Whitsunday Islands, more than 1,000 miles east of Sunday’s Osprey accident, killing four Australian defense personnel.
That exercise, Talisman Sabre, was much larger and involved Australia, the United States and several other countries. But in both cases, the aircraft went down during the kinds of joint exercises that have become more common, more intense and more complicated in recent years as the United States has stepped up its military tempo in the Indo-Pacific in an effort to deter Chinese aggression in the region.
U.S. troops have rotated through Darwin since World War II. Since the Marine Rotational Force was established as an annual feature of the U.S.-Australia alliance 12 years ago, the force has expanded from an initial 200 Marines to more than 10 times that. They are scheduled to stay in Darwin for seven months, through October.