Recovery mission begins for three US marines who died in NT plane crash

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Defence and emergency services will start working to recover the remains of three American marines who died in a plane crash north of Darwin on Sunday, while eight people who were on board the aircraft are being cared for in hospital.

Northern Territory Police Commissioner Michael Murphy said police, defence and fire services had been deployed to the remote site at Melville Island and would collect evidence to determine what happened when an aircraft carrying 23 people crashed about 9.30am local time on Sunday.

“The mission has now changed to one of rescue to one of recovery. [We] will now focus on recovery of three deceased marines with dignity,” Murphy said on Monday.

“This recovery and investigation will be prolonged, enduring and complex. We are planning to be at the crash site for at least 10 days at this stage.”

Murphy said personnel were already on site in the remote area, where there was limited 4G network and a flight ban was now in place. The United States defence force and marine corps were also assisting with resources to maintain the crash site and work out what happened.

Northern Territory Chief Minister Natasha Fyles said 20 people had been admitted to the Royal Darwin Hospital on Sunday. Twelve have since been discharged and eight remain in hospital. One of those patients is in the intensive care unit.

“We are unable to comment on the conditions of those who remain in hospital out of respect to them and their families,” Fyles said.

She said officials were supporting the families of marines in the United States, most of whom had found out what had happened in the middle of the night.

“Yesterday’s accident took part in a very remote location… within a number of hours of that accident, we were able to get everyone to hospital. It was a huge effort.”

Fyles said the marines were part of a rotational force that came through the top end every year and integrated themselves in the Northern Territory community. “We are all feeling their loss,” she said.

Murphy said it was an “incredible outcome” that 20 people had survived the fiery crash. “Our thoughts are with the three marines who have died… The priority is recovery of the three marines,” he said.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Monday expressed condolences and said it was a difficult time for families and friends of the marines, as well as the US Defence personnel who were present in the Northern Territory and around Australia.

“They are good friends. We have no closer allies than the United States. And this incident is, indeed, tragic,” he said.

“But once again, Australian emergency personnel, as well as our defence forces, as well as those people in the medical sector at the Royal Darwin Hospital, have shown the best of the Australian character in looking after our American friends.”

The Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft that crashed was one of two that had flown from Darwin to Melville Island on Sunday. Murphy on the weekend said the accident had occurred near a runway.

The Osprey is a hybrid tilt rotor aircraft that can land and take off both vertically or on a short runway, while during flight it can rotate its propellers forward and cruise much faster.

Sunday’s incident occurred a month after four Australian personnel were killed when their MRH-90 Taipan helicopter crashed off the Whitsundays in Queensland. They were taking part in Talisman Sabre exercises.

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