The Australian Army, national leaders and citizens of that nation this past weekend marked the 20th anniversary of the midair collision of two Black Hawks that killed 18 troops conducting counterterrorism training.
The June 12, 1996, crash was "the most significant peacetime disaster to strike the Australian Army," said that service's chief, Lt. Gen. Angus Campbell, during ceremonies with hundreds in attendance at a memorial marker for the victims in The Palmetum, a botanical garden in Townsville, Queensland, in northeast Australia. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull placed a wreath of flowers at the memorial.
Campbell noted that the crash also was the largest single loss of life for Australian military personnel since 1964, when 82 sailors on the HMAS Voyager died after that destroyer collided with the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne in waters south of Sydney.
Memorial services also were held in Australia's capital of Canberra, in Sydney and at Campbell Barracks in Swanbourne, near Perth in Western Australia. Campbell Barracks is the home of the Army's Special Air Service Regiment, which lost 15 troops in the crash. Townsville is home to the 5th Aviation Regiment.
The midair collision occurred amid training to prepare for counterterrorism missions during the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. Six S-70A-9s from the 5th Aviation Regiment were carrying troops from the special forces regiment.
The S-70A-9s are Australian derivatives of Sikorsky’s Black Hawk, most of which were built under license in Australia by Hawker de Havilland.
About 30 sec out from the target landing zone west of Townsville, at about 6:30 p.m. local time, the lead helicopter in the formation turned right. It struck the tail of the second helicopter and crashed immediately, killing 12 personnel on board. The second Black Hawk made a crash landing, but a fire that killed six more troops broke out.
In addition to the 15 Special Air Service Regiment fatalities, three members of the 5th Aviation Regiment died in the crash. Many others were injured, some seriously.
The investigation of the crash led to a number of changes to Army aviation's aircraft and operations. Aircraft subsequently were fitted with cockpit voice and flight data recorders, for instance. Also, the 6th Aviation Regiment was established to provide special operations support.
Photo courtesy of Andrew Mercer / CC BY-SA 4.0