Search for 3 missing Marines under way after aircraft crashes off Australia coast

A search and rescue is under way Saturday for 3 Marines missing after an aircraft crashed while trying to land off the east coast of Australia, military officials said.

A US defense officer told Fox News that 23 of the 26 service members on board an MV-22 Osprey were recovered safely.

Ships, small boats and aircraft from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group were conducting the operations following the incident, the Marine base Camp Butler in Japan said in a statement.

The crash is under investigation.

The MV-22, assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor was in the area conducting scheduled operations when the aircraft entered the water, the statement continued. The aircraft, in addtion to four crew members, can hold up to 24 Marines when fully-loaded.

The Osprey is a tilt-rotor aircraft that takes off and lands like a helicopter, but flies like an airplane. They have been involved in a series of high-profile crashes in recent years.

Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne said the incident occurred off the coast of Shoalwater Bay in Queensland state.

"I can confirm no Australian Defense Force personnel were on board the aircraft," Payne said. "The United States are leading the search and recovery effort."

Payne said she had spoken with U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis "to offer Australia's support in any way that can be of assistance."

The Osprey aircraft were in Australia for a joint military training exercise held by the U.S. and Australian military last month in Shoalwater Bay. The Talisman Sabre exercise, a biennial event between the two nations, involved more than 30,000 troops and 200 military aircraft.

The crash comes just weeks after a Marine Corps cargo plane spiraled out of the sky and into the Mississippi Delta, killing 15 Marines and a Navy Corpsman. 

About 70% of the Marine Corps fighter jets can't fly due to a shortage of spare parts, and reduced flights hours after years of budget cuts, officials say. U.S. military non-combat aviation crashes have totaled 12 in 2017, campared to 8 during the same period in 2016.

Fox News' Lucas Tomlinson and the Associated Press contributed to this report.