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US Marine Crash Sheds Light on Osprey Aircraft’s Troubling Safety History during Ongoing Search for Bodies

The search for the bodies of three U.S. marines killed in the V-22 Osprey aircraft crash on Melville Island, 80 kilometres north of Darwin, continues three days after it crashed on Aug. 27.

An additional twenty U.S. marines also on the downed aircraft were transferred to Royal Darwin Hospital on Sunday, with eight remaining in hospital, five of whom are in critical condition.

Northern Territory Chief Minister Natasha Fyles told reporters it was a credit to emergency responders that they were able to get everyone to safety quickly.

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“It’s … a credit to everyone involved that we were able to get 20 patients from an extremely remote location on an island into our tertiary hospital within a matter of hours,” she said.

This tragic incident resulted in the loss of Captain Eleanor LeBeau at 29 years old, Corporal Spencer Collart at 21 years old, and Major Tobin Lewis at 37 years old.

The Osprey that crashed on Aug. 27 was one of two that was being flown from Darwin to Melville as part of Exercise Predators Run, an exercise involving the militaries of the United States, Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and East Timor.

Remarkable Death Toll Was Not Higher

While the cause of the crash is yet to be revealed, Northern Territory Police Commissioner Michael Murphy noted that to have twenty survivors from the crash was incredible.

“For a chopper that crashes and catches fire, to have 20 Marines that are surviving, I think that’s an incredible outcome” and emergency services were surprised that the death toll was not higher,” he said.

Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles also remarked on the amount of survivors saying it was remarkable, “in many ways, so many have survived…this remains a very tragic incident, and the loss of those lives are keenly felt.”

U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has also paid tribute to the Marines who died in a social media post about the crash on X (formerly known as Twitter).

“We tragically lost service members during a training exercise in Australia,” he said.

“These Marines served our country with courage and pride, and my thoughts and prayers are with their families today, with the other troops who were injured in the crash, and with the entire USMC family.”

Osprey Aircraft Involved in Crash’s Poor Safety Record

The Osprey aircraft has long been a controversial capability for the U.S. defence forces due to its poor safety record and multiple accidents.

Dubbed “The Widowmaker” on account of its safety record, since 1992, the V-22 Osprey has been involved in 15 accidents, 10 of which have been fatal, resulting in 53 fatalities.

The most recent Osprey aircraft crash prior to the Melville Island crash on Aug. 27 occurred in June 2022 in California and resulted in five fatalities; the cause of the crash was put down to mechanical failure.

The Melville Island crash also wasn’t the first crash that has occurred with the Osprey in Australia, with a crash in August 2017 off the coast of Rockhampton also responsible for the death of another three marines.

What is the Osprey, and What Are Its Issues?

The Osprey aircraft is a dual-piloted, multi-engine tilt-rotor aircraft with the capability to execute vertical take-offs, hovers, and helicopter-like landings.

While in flight, it holds the ability to reposition its propellers horizontally, enabling it to operate like an aeroplane making it a kind of plane-helicopter hybrid.

It was built to replace helicopters as it has a much longer flight range, higher speed and has the ability to carry a higher capacity load.

Due to the Osprey being cutting edge technology, there isn’t any historical experience of similar aircraft to be used to learn from, and as a result, each flight is a learning experience for the pilots, the aircraft manufacturer and the maintenance personnel.

A National Commission on Military Aviation Safety 2020 report looked at the key issues behind U.S. military aircraft accidents and indicated the main problems causing crashes involved lack of adequate flight hours to maintain aircrew proficiency, insufficient personnel training, unreliable funding for spare parts provisioning, and precarious maintenance practices.

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