By KATE BANVILLE | EXCLUSIVE
THE Caller can reveal the identities of the four Australian aviators missing at sea following a helicopter crash near Hamilton Island during military training exercise Talisman Sabre on Friday night.
Captain Danniel Lyon and Lieutenant Maxwell Nugent were piloting the MRH-90 with senior loadmaster Warrant Officer Class 2 Joseph “Phil” Laycock and his offsider Corporal Alexander Naggs also on board.
A ship equipped with SONAR (Sound Navigation and Ranging) is expected to arrive at the search location Sunday morning to scan the ocean floor in search of sunken debris, including the voice cockpit recorder and air frame.
The four members were part of the Australian Army’s premier rotary wing unit based in Sydney to provide air support to special force’s operations.
“They’re part of a really tight team, a very highly professional, highly skilled aviation unit,” he told reporters on Sunday,” Australian Army chief Simon Stuart said.
“I couldn’t be more proud of them – as professionals, as soldiers and as people.”
(L) Highly respected Troop Commander Captain Danniel Lyon of the 6th Aviation Regiment is among the four Australian aviators involved in a catastrophic MRH-90 chopper crash on July 28. (R) Aircrewman Corporal Alexander Naggs of the 6th Aviation Regiment who was a former rifleman of the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, was well regarded amongst peers.
“My thoughts and prayers are with their families and mates here at the Sixth Aviation Regiment as they wait for more news about their loved ones,” he said.
“We will continue to support their families and mates in the coming days, weeks, months and years no matter the outcome.”
All four Australian Army members on board – two pilots and two loadmasters – were from Sydney’s 6th Aviation Regiment.
The Caller understands the 173 Squadron members were taking part in a restricted mission providing non tactical air transport to special forces operators of the 2nd Commando Regiment when the MRH-90 Taipan crashed into waters off Lindeman Island at about 10.30pm on Friday night.
(L) Lieutenant Max Nugent of the 6th Aviation Regiment who was one of two pilots onboard the MRH-90 involved in the catastrophic crash. (R) Father of three and highly respected senior special operations aircrewman Joseph Laycock of the 6th Aviation Regiment who is among those missing.
Confronting images have emerged of the crash debris which spans approximately 20 kilometres from Dent Island near Hamilton Island to as far north as Dingo Beach off Bowen.
Defence insiders have told the Caller the missing aircrew were part of a four ship assault – which is a type of flying formation – tasked with inserting special forces operators on the island when things went horribly wrong.
It’s understood the helicopter, which was number 83 in the packet, impacted the water at speed.
A frantic search and rescue effort followed immediately after the aircraft crashed until the three remaining MRH-90 choppers crewed by 6 AVN REGT members were stood down, with the entire MRH-90 fleet now grounded amid investigations.
Defence insiders privvy with the search and rescue have told the Caller it was unlikely there would be any signs of life, and this was now a recovery mission.
The large scale search efforts are ongoing with aircraft and crew from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States operating 24 hours across multiple maritime and aircraft platforms in a desperate effort to locate the missing personnel.
Defence Minister Richard Marles was expected to inspect the exercises alongside US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin in North Queensland on Sunday.
News of the crash has cast a pall on concurrent AUSMIN talks with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin with Mr Marles and Foreign Minister Penny Wong in Brisbane.
A long time friend and fellow aircrewman told the Caller the tight knit aviation community has banded together following the shock of losing their own.
Unable to be identified due to the nature of his work and security clearance, he said Corporal Phil Laycock was not only a friend but a true professional.
“Phil is a great soldier and natural leader but most importantly a great family man, father,” he said.
“Phil is a top human being and a great army aviator.”
Navy and Queensland police divers have commenced operations today to assist in the search and rescue operation, Queensland Police Service said in a statement.
Members of the public who locate debris are urged not to handle it and to contact police. Handling of any debris could impact on investigations or cause injury.
An exclusion zone remains in place in waters south of Hamilton Island. The exclusion zone incorporates waters from the southern tip of Long Island, east to Perseverance Island, south to Cole Island, and west to the mainland at Round Head. There is also an exclusion zone of 1000 metres from any military vessel.
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