The Australian Defence Force has halted operations of its entire MRH-90 Taipan helicopter fleet after one crashed near a New South Wales beach.
According to deputy prime minister Richard Marles, 10 soldiers were on board the multi-role Airbus chopper when it was forced to make an emergency landing in the water just after 9 pm on Wednesday.
Army, navy, and special forces personnel were reportedly conducting a late-night counter-terrorism training exercise in a maritime environment.
Marles revealed that the helicopter suddenly lost power, forcing the pilot to ditch the aircraft upright in Jervis Bay.
“We should all be thankful for the professionalism of the men and women of our defense forces. In this instance, they responded to a very terrifying situation, and in the midst of a crisis managed to act in a way which has kept everyone alive,” the deputy minister said in a statement.
Two of the crew sustained minor injuries in the crash.
Michael Ungerboeck, who was fishing in a boat on Wednesday, said he saw two helicopters in the air near Iluka Beach — one was “completely blacked out,” while the other had its navigation lights on.
He noticed that the chopper with the navigation lights was hovering about 20 meters (65 feet) above the water before it appeared to malfunction.
“We started to hear the rotor blades really wind down and you could see the navigation lights getting pretty damn close [to the water], then all of a sudden it powered up again and it went up,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Australia has a fleet of 47 MRH-90 Taipan helicopters that have been experiencing problems for some time.
The aircraft has been listed as a “project of concern” by the Australian National Audit Office.
According to Breaking Defense, the Taipan costs 50,000 Australian dollars ($33,442) an hour to operate, similar to the much more technologically advanced F-35A Joint Strike Fighter.
Canberra already has a project to replace the MRH-90 with 40 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters from the US.
A UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter in service with the US Army. Photo: Lockheed Martin