US marines killed in plane crash during NT training exercise identified

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Washington: Three US marines who were killed when their aircraft crashed off the coast of the Northern Territory over the weekend have been identified, but it is still not clear what caused the tragedy.

The three decorated officers who died were Corporal Spencer Collart, 21, Captain Eleanor LeBeau, 29, and Major Tobin Lewis, 37.

Major Tobin Lewis, 37, Osprey pilot Captain Eleanor LeBeau, 29, and US Corporal and crew chief Spencer Collart, 21.

They were among 23 marine personnel on board an MV-22B Osprey aircraft when it crashed while transporting troops during a routine training exercise on Melville Island, about 80 kilometres northwest of Darwin.

According to a statement by the Marine Rotational Force – Darwin (MRF-D), three other Marines injured in the crash remained under the care of Royal Darwin Hospital in Darwin, one in critical condition and two others in stable condition.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of three respected and beloved members of the MRF-D family,” said Colonel Brendan Sullivan, commanding officer of Marine Rotational Force – Darwin.

“Our thoughts and prayers remain with the families and with all involved. At present, we remain focused on required support to the ongoing recovery and investigative efforts.”

An Osprey aircraft during a training drill in 2022

The crash took place during a military exercise called “Exercise Predators Run,” a training drill that involves troops from Australia, the US, the Philippines, Indonesia and Timor-Leste.

Collart, from Virginia, was the Osprey squadron’s crew chief; LeBeau, from Illinois, was its pilot; and Lewis, from Colorado was its executive officer. All were American Marines who had been awarded the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.

Their bodies were flown to Darwin and will now be making the journey back home to the US. Twenty people were initially injured in the crash, which took place on Sunday (AEST) at 9.30am, but most have been discharged. No Australians were involved.

US President Joe Biden expressed sorrow for the loss on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

Asked if the president was concerned more broadly about the safety of military drills, his spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre later replied: “When it comes to our military force, he’s always going to be concerned. He’s always going to want to make sure that they have everything that they need and, of course, that they’re safe.”

Sunday’s crash was the latest in a line of tragedies involving the Osprey aircraft; last June, five US Marines died after an MV-22 Osprey crashed during a training mission Wednesday near Glamis, California.

In April 2010, a US Air Force Osprey crashed in southern Afghanistan, killing three US service members and one civilian employee.

And in August 2017, another three marines were killed in Australia, when an MV-22B Osprey crashed in the Coral Sea.

Emergency services are expected to be at the site for more than a week as they work through what led to the tragedy.

Radio audio has also been released, showing an emergency call that came through from air traffic control at the time of the incident, with an American voice asking for help.

“We are just declaring an emergency, we have Dumptruck 11 flight single MV-22 in the vicinity of Melville Island,” the voice said.

“Search and rescue is requesting … if there is fire?” an Australian voice later asks.

“Affirm, there is a significant fire in the vicinity of the crash site. Looks like it is not spreading, but there is a significant fire,” responds the American voice.

Family, friends and colleagues have paid tribute to the victims, and a candlelight vigil attended by about 50 marines was held at sunset in Darwin last night.

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