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Sat, May 19, 2007

Australian Navy Grounds Sea King Fleet

Aussie Defense Boss Denies Link To '05 Accident

The Australian Navy's fleet of six aging Sea King maritime patrol helicopters, based at Nowra on the New South Wales south coast, were grounded Thursday over safety concerns after a routine maintenance inspection found a safety pin missing from one of the helicopters.

Two years ago a Sea King, operating off the HMAS Kanimbla, crashed on the Indonesian island of Nias during tsunami relief operations killing nine Department of Defense personnel. The Navy blamed the crash on mechanical and maintenance failures similar to those found Thursday, according to The Australian.

The entire sea King fleet was grounded at that time, too.

"Navy takes this matter very seriously and has initiated a full investigation," Australian Fleet commander Rear Admiral Davyd Thomas said. "I will lift the suspension only when I am satisfied that it is appropriate to resume flying, which is expected by the end of the month."

The chairwoman of the Federal Government's Defense and Veterans Affairs Committee, Joanna Gash, has warned against linking Thursday's action and the Nias crash, according to ABC News.

Gash said the Australian public can be assured the helicopters are safe and the grounding is "just a precaution."

"I need to emphasize that this particular incident was totally different to the previous one that we had. Certainly they were to do with split pins, but they were certainly not critical to flight safety," she said.

Australia's military is replacing the aging Sea King with a fleet of 46 European-built MRH-90 helicopters at a cost of more than $1.6 billion. The first two aircraft are due for delivery later this year.



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