An Australian Army Airbus MRH 90 helicopter has been forced to ditch into Jervis Bay overnight.
The helicopter was undertaking special forces training with a mix of 10 Army and Navy personnel aboard when it came down into the bay not far from the Royal Australian Navy’s training facility at HMAS Creswell.
Witnesses reported hearing a loud bang, and initial reports indicate there may have been a problem with the helicopter’s rotor. The aircraft are fitted with inflatable floats that allow them to float and stay upright in calm waters. It has been dragged ashore, and a boom has been established around the machine to prevent oil or fuel spills from spreading into the bay.
In a brief statement at Parliament House this morning, Defence Minister Richard Marles confirmed there were only two minor injuries and praised the helicopter’s crew.
“Everybody was able to walk away,” he said.
“One bumped their head, the other took on some seawater. They’re being looked after, so essentially, everybody has been able to get out of this without any serious injuries. That represents an incredible achievement on the part of the crew.”
Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Simon Stuart thanked emergency responders for their quick response.
“Tonight quick responses from ADF personnel and emergency services and well-drilled teams prevented a potential tragedy,” said Lieutenant General Stuart.
“We will conduct a thorough investigation into this incident to determine the cause and ensure the platform remains safe to operate.”
As a consequence of the ditching, the Australian Defence Force’s fleet of 47 MRH 90s has been grounded pending an initial investigation of the cause of the crash.
The fleet has been grounded at least two times during its service life.
In 2019 they were grounded because of the delamination of a composite tail rotor on one of the aircraft when operating off the Queensland coast. In that case, the helicopter landed safely and the entire fleet’s tail rotors were inspected and, in some cases, replaced.
At least one other fleet-wide grounding in 2021, which lasted nearly two months, was attributed to configuration management, spare parts, maintenance and safety issues.
The MRH 90 was selected for the Australian Army’s Project AIR 9000 Phase 2 and 4 in 2005 and 2006, and the Navy’s Air 9000 Phase 6 requirement in 2006, and entered service in 2009. But despite promised performance increases over previous generations of helicopters, the fleet has suffered from maintenance, sustainment, high operating costs and poor availability issues throughout its service life with Australia and other nations.
Because of this, the Australian Government announced in 2021 that the MRH 90 fleet would be withdrawn from service more than a decade early and replaced with 40 Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawks from 2024. The Navy’s six MRH 90s were withdrawn from service last year and will be replaced by additional MH-60R Romeo Seahawks from 2024.