Several investigations are underway after three U.S. Marines died in an aircraft crash during military drills off the coast of Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory.
The MV-22B Osprey vertical take-off aircraft crashed in dense forest Sunday on Melville Island, about 80 kilometers north of the Australian mainland.
Onboard were members of the U.S. military, who were taking part in Exercise Predators Run, a series of war drills involving 2,500 troops from Australia, the Philippines, East Timor and Indonesia.
Australia’s Department of Defense said the exercise was suspended while emergency evacuations were underway Sunday.
Northern Territory Police Commissioner Michael Murphy told reporters that all injured Marines who had been onboard the tilt-rotor helicopter had been taken back to the mainland.
They were treated at the Royal Darwin Hospital, which went to its highest alert level in response to the crash. Authorities Monday said one Marine remained in critical condition, while four others were seriously injured.
Last month, four Australian airmen died when an army Taipan helicopter ditched into the sea during exercises near Hamilton Island, a popular tourist destination north of Brisbane. At the time, Australian officials said the military drills were necessary but dangerous.
Speaking to the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Monday, Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles paid tribute to the sacrifice of military service men and women.
“This is a very tragic event,” Marles said. “Obviously, we have been reminded ourselves of the risks involved in defense exercises and the costs that defense personnel pay and we are very much standing with the United States in this moment and doing everything we can to help.”
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin also expressed his sympathies to the Marines’ family and colleagues in a social media post saying that they had served their country “with courage and pride.”
This is the sixth fatal crash involving a U.S. Marine Osprey since 2012.
In recent years, the United States has increased its military cooperation with Australia, a key ally in the Pacific.
Formal defense ties between Washington and Canberra date back to the early 1950s.