CANBERRA, Australia — A United States Marine Corps plane carrying troops crashed on an island in northern Australia on Sunday, killing three Marines and injuring 20 others during a multinational training exercise, officials said .
Three were confirmed dead on Melville Island and five of the 23 on board were flown in serious condition 80 kilometers (50 miles) to the mainland city of Darwin for hospitalization after the plane crashed in Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotors around 9:30 a.m. morning, a statement from the Marines said.
“Recovery efforts are ongoing,” the statement said, adding that the cause of the crash was under investigation.
A US military official reported to Australian air traffic controllers a “significant fire near the crash site”, according to an audio recording of the conversation broadcast by Nine News television.
Helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft were deployed to return from the remote location with the rest of the injured, Northern Territory Police Commissioner Michael Murphy said.
One of the injured was undergoing surgery at the Royal Darwin Hospital, Northern Territory Chief Minister Natasha Fyles said about six hours after the crash. .
Some were seriously injured and were being triaged on arrival at Darwin airport, she said.
“We recognize this is a terrible incident,” Fyles said. “The Northern Territory Government stands ready to offer all necessary assistance.”
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Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said only Americans were injured in the accident during exercise Predators Run, which involves the armies of the United States, Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines and of East Timor.
“Initial reports suggest the incident involves U.S. Defense Force personnel only,” Albanese said. “As a government and as a Ministry of Defence, we are very focused on incident response and ensuring that all support and assistance is provided during this difficult time.”
Melville is part of the Tiwi Islands which, along with Darwin, are the focus of the exercise which involves 2,500 soldiers.
Meville is indigenous land and is mostly covered in rainforests. Its population is about 1,000, mostly indigenous.
The Osprey that crashed was one of two to fly from Darwin to Melville on Sunday, Murphy said.
About 150 US Marines are currently based in Darwin and up to 2,500 rotate through the city each year. They are part of a realignment of forces in the Asia-Pacific region that aims broadly to confront an increasingly assertive China.
The 12-day exercise is scheduled to end on September 7. It involves troops on land, at sea and in the air.
Darwin is a large city by the standards of Australia’s sparsely populated tropical north, with a population of 150,000. But multiple casualty events can test the resources of its main hospital. The hospital has been placed on the highest possible state of emergency alert, which means treatment of less urgent medical cases could be affected, Fyles said.
The US military was also taking part in a multinational military exercise in July when four Australian servicemen were killed in the crash of an MRH-90 Taipan military helicopter off the northeast coast of Australia.
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