Search for three missing Marines ended after aircraft crash off Australia

Published August 05, 2017

Rescuers have ended their search for three U.S. Marines who had been missing after an aircraft crashed into the sea off the east coast of Australia while trying to land.

In a statement late Saturday, the Marine base Camp Butler in Japan confirmed that "operations have now shifted to recovery efforts."

The Marines' next of kin had been notified, and Australia's defense force was assisting the Americans with the recovery effort, the statement said.

The missing Marines were among 26 service members on board the MV-22 Osprey, which crashed at around 3 a.m. Sunday, local time. The other 23 service members were recovered safely.

The cause of the crash is under investigation. A White House official said President Donald Trump had been briefed by chief of staff John Kelly about the crash.

"We ask that you please respect the privacy of our families during this difficult time," Marine Expeditionary Force responded.

The Osprey had launched from the USS Bonhomme Richard and was conducting regularly scheduled operations when it crashed into the water, the statement said. The ship's small boats and aircraft immediately responded in the search and rescue efforts.

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.

In 2015, a U.S. Osprey crashed during a training exercise in Hawaii, killing two Marines. Last December, a U.S. military Osprey crash-landed off Japan's southern island of Okinawa. Its five crew members were rescued safely. And in January, three U.S. soldiers were wounded in the "hard landing" of an Osprey in Yemen.

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 percent 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, compared to 8 during the same period in 2016.

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

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

"I can confirm no Australian Defence Force personnel were on board the aircraft," Payne said in a statement. "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."

Fox News' Lucas Tomlinson, Jackie Pham and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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