The black box from the Taipan that crashed into the sea last month has been located.
In a hugely significant development, Defence confirmed on Tuesday that a RAN dive team recovered the voice and flight data recorder from the wreckage.
It comes after the helicopter ditched into the water south of Hamilton Island while participating in the Talisman Sabre ‘war game’ involving 30,000 participants. All four men onboard were later confirmed to have died.
In a new statement, Defence said the recovery remains a “complicated and difficult operation”.
“Defence’s priority remains the recovery of our soldiers and returning them to their families,” it said.
“Defence remains in close contact with the families and is updating them on the operation as new details become available.”
It follows Defence Force Chief of Joint Operations, Greg Bilton, confirming last week that human remains were located in the debris field.
“Due to the nature of the debris field, positive identified location of the remains is unlikely to occur until we recover more of the wreckage,” he said.
“While we continue with the recovery as best we can, poor weather conditions have continued to impact our search effort. The weather is expected to remain challenging until mid-next week.
“The conditions have been quite difficult under the water and on the surface, and the Whitsundays is renowned for significant current, so the team are working through those, and as you can see, we are making progress, but it is methodical.”
The grim discovery came after Defence Minister Richard Marles said on Monday last week that authorities had lost all hope of finding the four missing crew of the Taipan.
The four men were named as Capt Daniel Lyon, Lt Maxwell Nugent, WO Class Two Joseph Laycock, and Cpl Alexander Naggs.
Marles called the crash a “catastrophic incident” and said it was now clear that any hope of finding the men alive had been lost.
He added that defence exercises such as Talisman Sabre are serious and carry risks but are vital.
“These exercises have played a critical part in providing for the collective security and peace of the region in which we live. And so the loss of these four men is a significant and meaningful as the loss of anyone who has worn our nation’s uniform,” he said.
“If it is, as we imagine it to be, they died on Friday night, making a difference.
“The people who [are] most in pain in this moment [are the] families of these four men. They have lost loved ones. People most cherished… To them, we are so deeply sorry and so grateful.
“They have every right to feel an intense sense of pride. Amidst the inadequacy of these words that, I wanted to know they stand in the warm embrace of the entire nation.
“My thoughts and prayers go out to the families, and to the friends, to the regiments.”
The incident has raised questions surrounding the use of the Taipan, which has been involved in multiple groundings and is set to exit the ADF next year.
The Taipan fleet was grounded in 2019, 2021 and earlier this year after an aircraft ditched off the NSW South Coast.
Initially purchased for $3.7 billion in 2005–2006 to replace ageing Black Hawk and Sea King fleets, the locally-assembled Taipan has proven a headache for Defence, with statistics showing just 46 per cent of MRH-90 aircraft allocated to flying units were available to fly in 2021.
The incident in March saw 10 ADF personnel on a routine counter-terrorism training exercise rescued from the water near Jervis Bay, with two sustaining minor injuries.