Search Is Suspended for 3 Missing Marines Off Australia Featured

Search Is Suspended for 3 Missing Marines Off Australia

A United States Marines MV-22 Osprey approached the deck of the U.S.S. Bonhomme Richard off the Australian coast in June. Credit Jason Reed/Reuters


Officials have suspended the search for three missing United States Marines after an MV-22 Osprey, a hybrid aircraft, entered the water off the eastern coast of Australia around 4 p.m. local time on Saturday.

There were 26 personnel onboard the Osprey at the time of the accident, and 23 have been rescued, the III Marine Expeditionary Force said in a news release.

In a statement emailed to The New York Times, the expeditionary force said the Navy and Marine Corps had suspended search and rescue efforts for the three remaining Marines around 3 a.m. local time on Sunday.

“Operations have now shifted to recovery efforts,” the statement said. “The next-of-kin for the three missing Marines have been notified.

“As the sea state permits, recovery efforts will be conducted to further search, assess and survey the area. Recovery and salvage operations can take several months to complete.”

The aircraft had launched from the U.S.S. Bonhomme Richard, an amphibious assault ship, “and was conducting regularly scheduled operations” when it entered the water, an initial news release said. “The ship’s small boats and aircraft immediately responded in the search and rescue efforts.”

President Trump was briefed on the crash by his new chief of staff, John F. Kelly, the former Homeland Security secretary and retired Marine general, the White House said.

Marise Payne, Australia’s defense minister, said in an emailed statement that the crash occurred off the coast of Shoalwater Bay, in the northeastern state of Queensland.

She added that she had briefed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and had spoken with the United States defense secretary, Jim Mattis, “to offer Australia’s support in any way that can be of assistance.”

The Osprey is a tilt-rotor aircraft that can lift off without a runway, like a helicopter, and cruise like an airplane while in flight. First developed during the 1980s, it got off to a rocky start over safety concerns. One crash in Arizona in 2000 killed all 19 Marines on board.

“It had a very difficult development period,” said Richard L. Aboulafia, an aircraft consultant and analyst with Teal Group, an aerospace and defense consultancy.

But he added that no other aircraft has the Osprey’s unique capabilities and that it has proved its worth on battlefields, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. “As it matured, it went well into the safe zone,” Mr. Aboulafia said.

The Osprey that crashed on Saturday belonged to the Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 — nicknamed the Dragons — which is part of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit based in Okinawa, Japan.

Another Osprey crashed in December off the coast of Okinawa. There were no fatalities, but Ospreys were grounded for a week in Japan. In the past, some residents of Okinawa who were opposed to the United States military base there have seized on the Osprey as a symbol of the Americans’ presence.

Last month, a Marine Corps transport plane crashed in Mississippi and killed 16 service members. Brig. Gen. Bradley S. James, commander of the Fourth Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Forces Reserve, said that “something went wrong at cruise altitude.”

The episodes have exacerbated concerns that budget cuts have led to a lack of maintenance, and a decline in mission readiness, for United States military aircraft.

Peter Baker and Matt Stevens contributed reporting.

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