Four Australian Defence Force members missing after helicopter crash near Townsville during exercise with New Zealand troops

Concerns are growing for four missing Australian Defence Force members after their army helicopter crashed into the ocean off the coast of Queensland, near Hamilton Island, overnight. 

The Australian Army MRH90 helicopter, known as a Taipan, was engaging in a two-helicopter training mission and had four crew aboard when it crashed at about 10:30pm on Friday (12:30am on Saturday NZ time), according to Australian Deputy Prime Minister - also Minister for Defence - Richard Marles. 

Debris was later found in the waters off Shute Harbour and it's not clear what caused the crash, according to 7News. 

The helicopter was participating in Exercise Talisman Sabre, a large-scale military exercise, which involved defence forces from Australia, the United States and other allies including New Zealand soldiers.

The New Zealand Defence Force confirmed no Kiwi troops were involved in the crash. 

The Australian defence department confirmed the chopper crashed in the water near Lindeman Island.  

"The aircraft was participating in a night-time training activity as part of Exercise Talisman Sabre 2023 when it was reported missing late Friday night," the statement said. 

"Military and civilian search and rescue aircraft and watercraft are currently conducting search and rescue operations at the incident site."

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Marles released a joint statement on Saturday afternoon (NZ time) confirming the four crew members have yet to be found. 

"Late last night, an Australian Army helicopter on MRH-90 impacted waters closed to Hamilton Island," the statement read. 

"A search and rescue commenced immediately. Sadly, the four aircrew who were on board are yet to be found. The families of the four aircrew have been notified of this incident.

"Our first thoughts are with the loved ones of the missing. All Australians hold them in our hearts and we hold onto hope as the search and rescue teams go about their work right now. We have the utmost confidence in their professionalism and skill." 

Australian Defence Force chief Angus Campbell described the crash as a "terrible moment".

"Our focus at the moment is finding our people and supporting their families and the rest of our team," General Campbell said.

"I really deeply appreciate the assistance that has been provided by a variety of civil agencies - the Queensland Police, the Australian Maritime Safety Agency, and the public as well as our US allies."

Around 30,000 soldiers and support teams from 13 nations, including NZ, Australia and the US are taking part in what is the 10th holding of the biennial Talisman Sabre exercise, according to the Australian Ministry of Defence.

Several Pacific Island countries - including Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Tonga - are participating for the first time.

The exercise involved securing a western corridor in the Townsville Field Training Area (60 kilometres southwest of Townsville), subduing defending enemies and allowing a brigade to advance through.

On Friday, the NZ Defence Force said soldiers, light armoured vehicles and NH90 helicopters took part in exercises near Townsville.