CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Eight US Marines remained at a hospital in the Australian north coast city of Darwin on Monday after being injured in a violent tiltrotor plane crash that killed three of their colleagues on an island.
All 20 survivors were flown from Melville Island 80 kilometers (50 miles) south to Darwin within hours of the Marine V-22 Osprey crash Sunday at 9:30 a.m. during a multinational exercise, Northern Territory Premier Natasha Fyles said.
All had been taken to the Royal Darwin Hospital, with 12 discharged by Monday, she said.
The first five Marines to arrive at the city’s main hospital were critically injured and one required emergency surgery.
Fyles said she would not give details of the conditions of eight people who remained hospitalized out of respect for them and their families.
“It is … a credit to everyone involved that we were able to move 20 patients from an extremely remote location on an island to our tertiary hospital in a matter of hours,” Fyles told reporters.
The downed Osprey was one of two that flew from Darwin to Melville on Sunday as part of the Exercise Predators Run involving the militaries of the United States, Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines and East Timor.
All 23 Marines aboard the lost aircraft were stationed temporarily in Darwin as part of the Marine Corps’ annual troop rotation.
Around 150 US Marines are currently stationed in Darwin and up to 2,500 rotate through the city each year. They are part of a realignment of US forces in Asia-Pacific broadly aimed at confronting an increasingly assertive China.
The bodies of the three Marines remained at the crash site, where a restricted area would be established, Northern Territory Police Commissioner Michael Murphy said.
The cause of the crash has yet to be determined and investigators will remain on site for at least 10 days, Murphy said.
The Osprey, a hybrid aircraft that takes off and lands like a helicopter but can tilt its propellers forward during flight and fly much faster than an airplane, crashed into the tropical forest and burst into flames.
As of Sunday, there have been five deadly marine osprey accidents since 2012, killing a total of 16 people.
The last time this happened was in June 2022, when five Marines were killed in a violent crash in a remote part of California east of San Diego. An accident investigation report last month found the tragedy was caused by a mechanical failure related to a clutch.
According to the report, there have been 16 similar clutching problems in flying marine ospreys since 2012. However, no problems have been encountered since February, when the Marine Corps began replacing a piece of equipment on the plane, the report said.
The emergency services were surprised that the death toll in the accident on Sunday was not higher.
“For a helicopter that goes down and catches fire, I think that’s an incredible result for 20 Marines to survive,” Murphy said.
Secretary of Defense Richard Marles also expressed his gratitude that the number of casualties was not worse.
“It’s remarkable in many ways that so many survived,” Marles told Nine News. “This remains a very tragic incident and the loss of these lives is very real,” Marles added.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin paid tribute to the dead Marines.
“These Marines have served our country with courage and pride, and my thoughts and prayers today are with their families, with the other troops injured in the crash, and with the entire USMC family,” Austin tweeted.
The US Embassy in Australia issued a statement expressing condolences to the families and friends of the dead Marines and thanking Australian responders for their assistance.