A helicopter crash and the desperate search for the four personnel on board have overshadowed top-level strategic talks between Australian and United States officials.
International military training exercise ‘Talisman Sabre’ has been put on hold entirely amid frantic search efforts for four Australian aviators feared dead Friday night.
The MRH 90 Taipan helicopter, similar to the one pictured below, went down at about 10.30 pm into waters off Hamilton Island.
A search is underway and the families of the four crash victims have been notified.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Defence Minister Richard Marles met their US counterparts in Brisbane on Saturday morning to discuss security, stability and the progression of a major defence deal.
But much of the focus was on the search for four people missing after an Australian Army helicopter crashed into waters off Hamilton Island in Queensland during joint military exercises late on Friday.
The accident served as a stark reminder of the risks faced by those serving their countries and the courage they showed,Minister Wong said.
“We do meet with heavy hearts today,” she told the 33rd Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said both nations were grateful for the dedication and service of military personnel and their work to secure the freedom the two nations shared.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said training accidents were always tough.
“The reason why we train to such high standards is so that we can be successful, we can protect lives when we are called to answer any kind of crisis,”he said.
It’s the first time the ministers are meeting since the announcement of Australia’s agreement to secure nuclear submarines under the AUKUS security deal.
The submarines are expected to be high on the agenda after opposition within US Congress signalled progress on the deal could stall.
A small group of Republicans is threatening to block the agreement, citing concerns the US Navy will be left short.
Another top agenda item is the creation of a local missile manufacturing industry that could begin shipping guided weapons to the United States and other nations within two years.
The plan, set to be unveiled on Saturday, is being driven by the Russian war in Ukraine, which has highlighted Western nations’ lack of ammunition stocks.
Mr Marles said the Australia-US relationship was only getting stronger.
“One thing is really clear: now is the time to be working closely with friends,”he said on Friday.
“The alliance between our two countries is at the heart of Australia’s national security and our world view and we look forward to progressing that relationship over the course of the next two days.”
Mr Blinken said in a challenging global climate, it was important for like-minded nations to work in partnership.
“It makes such a huge difference to have close friends as we tackle the challenges that we both face around the world and also try to find opportunities (for) progress,” he said.
Mr Marles and Mr Austin are due to travel to north Queensland to meet Australian and US troops taking part in military drills as part of the Talisman Sabre exercise.
The trip was planned before the crash on Friday night.
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