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Australian Helicopter Down

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A ROYAL Australian Navy helicopter crashed on a rescue mission in earthquake-stricken Indonesia last night, killing nine defence personnel.


Two others were injured when the Sea King helicopter, from HMAS Kanimbla, came down as it was trying to land in a remote part of the devastated island of Nias. Those killed - seven men and two women - were five Navy personnel, three RAAF members and one Army soldier.

The two male survivors were airlifted from the crash scene and were being operated on last night aboard the Kanimbla.


\"They are in a serious condition with leg fractures and other injuries,\" Kanimbla's Commander George McGuire said. The Australians had been diverted to Nias only days before they were due to return home after three months in Sumatra helping victims of the Boxing Day tsunami.


The Sea King carried an emergency medical team and was looking for casualties of last week's earthquake in rugged country that had not been visited by relief workers. Another Sea King following its did not see the crash but arrived minutes later to find the burning wreck of the chopper with bodies trapped inside.


The Defence Department said in a statement in Canberra that the crash occurred at approximately 7.30pm Australian time.


"\The helicopter, from HMAS Kanimbla, was conducting a sortie in support of Operation Sumatra Assist (Phase 2), the Australian Defence Force's humanitarian contribution to the earthquake relief effort,\" the Defence Department said.


This reporter from The Sunday Telegraph on board the Kanimbla heard of the crash 26 minutes after it had happened. She heard a radio message: "\Problem with chopper. No survivors.\" The accident happened at 4.30pm local time and the light was said to be okay for flying.


Experts said it was thought mechanical failure was the most likely cause of the crash.


Shattered crew members on the Kanimbla cried and bowed their heads in shock in the ship's mess room when they heard the news of the deaths.


The accident is the worst loss of life in a peacetime military helicopter crash since 1996, when 18 soldiers were killed when two Army Blackhawks collided on a training exercise in Queensland.


The Kanimbla's helicopters were to be used to distribute food, water and medical supplies.


With the island's airstrip destroyed, aid had been trickling in slowly and heavy earthmoving equipment needed to shift rubble had been stuck on the mainland.


The Navy personnel killed in last night's crash should have been home and reunited with their loved ones after three months in Indonesia.


Kanimbla, with its 60 medical personnel, was already in Singapore after its rescue and rebuilding efforts following the Boxing Day tsunami when it was turned back to help Indonesia through its latest natural disaster.


Commander McGuire received the order to divert to Nias following last week's tragic earthquake.


The ship's Sea King helicopters were deployed to Nias to evacuate those most in need of urgent medical attention - for treatment on board the vessel, which has two operating theatres.


HMAS Kanimbla was originally built for the US Navy and acquired by the Navy in 1994.


Along with HMAS Manoora, the Kanimbla underwent extensive modifications for new roles as helicopter-capable amphibious transports. Their primary roles are to transport, lodge ashore and support an Army contingent of 450 troops and their vehicles and equipment.

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My editor, Mark Ogden, did his training with that Squadron and works in the building next to them. This was also one of the same helicopters we were working with in Banda Achey, earlier this year.


May They Rest In Peace, they died helping others.


Heli Ops

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