A US Marine Osprey aircraft is believed to have struck trouble while attempting to land on a transport ship, smashing into its deck and sliding into the ocean off the coast of central Queensland.
Australian Defence Minister Marise Payne confirmed last night that HMAS Melville, a specialist sonar ship, and a crew of Australian Navy divers had been dispatched to assist US salvage operations and to search for the bodies of three passengers missing and presumed dead.
Family members believed one of the missing men was Osprey crew chief Corporal Nathan Ordway, from Wichita, Kansas.
Cpl Ordway's sister Taylor asked people to "please pray for my brother" in a post on the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit's Facebook page.
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A family friend, Heidi Peltzer, said Cpl Ordway was one of the missing men and asked friends to "please pray for his life, his safety, and comfort for the family".
The crash occurred at 4.07pm on Saturday.
The Marine unit, usually based in Okinawa, Japan, had lingered off the coast of the Shoalwater Bay to continue training drills for almost two weeks since the official end of the high-profile Exercise Talisman Sabre.
Please keep the families of those involved in the Osprey mishap near Australia in your thoughts and prayers.— Robert B. Neller (@GenRobertNeller) August 5, 2017
It's understood the controversial V-22 Osprey, nicknamed the "widow maker", was flying from the amphibious assault ship the USS Bonhomme Richard to the transport dock ship the USS Green Bay.
On approach to the Green Bay, the Osprey slammed into the flight deck and then slid into the water.
It is not believed weather contributed to the accident.
Most of the 26 people on board were rescued and uninjured. One Marine was taken to Rockhampton with a broken leg.
"The circumstances of the mishap are currently under investigation," a statement by the Marine Corps Camp Butler in Okinawa said.
By noon yesterday, US search-and-rescue efforts were suspended and operations shifted to "a recovery" effort focused on an area about 25 nautical miles (33km) off the coast, between Cape Manifold and Cape Clinton, north of Yeppoon. Water depth in the area is about 50m.
"The transition comes after teams led continuous sustained search efforts supported by aircraft and ships," the statement said.
US President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull were yesterday briefed about the incident.
Defence Minister Marise Payne last night confirmed the Australian Defence Force would support the recovery efforts, which could continue for several months.
"A number of (ADF) assets are involved in supporting the US-led recovery operation," Ms Payne said.
"One of the Royal Australian Navy's survey ships, HMAS Melville, is currently en route to the search area from the ship's home port of Cairns.
A Navy Clearance Diving team is also preparing to move via a Royal Australian Air Force C130J Hercules aircraft to the Shoalwater Bay Training Area.
"Australian Army aviation assets are at short notice readiness to support any further requirements."
Ms Payne warned the recovery would be complex.
"The incident is currently being investigated by US authorities and Australia will assist in these investigations where appropriate."
CRASH MAKES HEADLINES AROUND THE WORLD
THE crash has made headlines around the world, not only in the United States but Japan as well.
Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera yesterday reportedly said his country would ask the United States Government about the cause of the accident and the reliability of the notorious Osprey.
According to Japanese media outlet NHK, he also reportedly encouraged the US to consider not flying the Ospreys in Japan, following Saturday's crash, until a satisfactory explanation came to light.
Japan had previously made calls for the aircraft to be grounded after a crash off the coast of Okinawa in December last year.
Five crew members were caught up in that incident, with two reportedly injured.
- Additional reporting by Michael Wray and Peter Michael