By KATE BANVILLE | EXCLUSIVE

MAJOR international military training exercise ‘Talisman Sabre’ has been put on hold entirely amid frantic search efforts for four Australian aviators feared dead in an army helicopter crash Friday night. 

The MRH 90 Taipan helicopter, similar to the one picture below, went down about 10.30pm into waters off Hamilton Island. 

A search is underway and the families of the four crash victims have been notified.

The Caller can confirm the aircraft and its four crew members were from Sydney’s 6th Aviation Regiment, Holsworthy Barracks. The Caller is aware of the identify the four Australian Army personnel involved.

The Caller understands the aircraft was taking in part in a non-tactical flight known as a ‘green move’ that involved a second chopper, which immediately began search and rescue efforts. 

An Australian Army MRH 90 Taipan helicopter, similar to the one involved in the fatal crash near Hamilton Island. IMAGE: Supplied

The MRH90 was part of a multi airframe taskgroup including crews and aircraft from Australia, United States and New Zealand. 

The Caller can confirm the MRH90 fleet has been grounded and aircrew stood down as an investigation is underway. It’s understood all members of the 6th Aviation Regiment detachment will be flown home today. 

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese released a statement Saturday morning confirming the four members on board were yet to be found.

“Our first thoughts are with the loved ones of the missing,” Albanese said.

“All Australians hold them in our hearts and we hold on to hope as the search and rescue teams go about their work right now.

“We have the utmost confidence in their professionalism and skill.”

Earlier this year Australia announced it was ditching the MRH-90 Taipan in replacement for the US-built Black Hawk choppers, which are being flown as part of Talisman Sabre.

The cancellation of the MRH90 – French manufacturer Airbus for NATO comes on the back of continued reports exposing a long string of faults involving near catastrophic events, budget blow outs including maintenance issues which led to the Taipan fleet being grounded on multiple occasions. 

The exercise of more than 31,000 members from 13 nations is expected to remain on pause for the remainder of the day, with adjustments to be made to aviation elements previously planned in support of military operations.

A press conference is expected to be held in Brisbane later today to provide an update on the crash. 

More to come.

NOTICE: Australian Defence Force support services

1.       Defence All-hours support line – The All-hours Support Line (ASL) is a confidential telephone service for ADF members and their families that is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week by calling 1800 628 036.

2.       Defence Member and Family Helpline – Operates 24-7, if you need support, help, or advice at any time, call 1800 624 608. The Defence Member and Family Helpline is staffed by qualified human services professionals including social workers and psychologists.

3.       A network of dedicated mental health professionals at health centres located at major Defence bases is available to provide or facilitate support for ADF members both on-base and off-base. For out-of-hours or away-from-base assistance, members can call 1800 IMSICK (1800 467 425) to locate the nearest support. More information is available via the Mental Health Portal at: https://www1.defence.gov.au/adf-members-families/health-well-being/services-support-fighting-fit/mental-health-online

4.       Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling (formerly VVCS) provides free and confidential counselling and support for current and former serving ADF members and their families. They can be reached 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 1800 011 046 or visit the Open Arms website for more information.

5.       Open Arms also has Safe Zone Support which can be accessed at: https://www.openarms.gov.au/safe-zone-support

6.       The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) provides immediate help and treatment for any mental health condition, whether it relates to service or not. If you or someone you know is finding it hard to cope with life, call Open Arms on 1800 011 046 or DVA on 1800 838 372. Further information can be accessed on the DVA website.

A full list of welfare support services is available at: https://www.defence.gov.au/about/reviews-inquiries/afghanistan-inquiry/welfare-support

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