US military searches for 3 Marines in sea after aircraft ditches off Australia

SYDNEY, Aug 6 (Reuters) - Rescue teams were searching for three U.S. Marines missing after their aircraft crashed into the sea off Australia's east coast on Saturday, the U.S. Marine Corps said.

Twenty-three other personnel aboard the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft had been rescued, the IIIMarine Expeditionary Force, based in Okinawa, Japan, said in a statement.

In past years, Ospreys have been involved in incidents resulting in deaths or injuries.

The aircraft had launched from the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) amphibious assault ship and was on regular operations when it hit the water, the statement said. Boats and aircraft on the ship immediately began a search-and-rescue effort.

Images of the Marines MV-22 Osprey Aircraft

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U.S. Marines MV-22 Osprey Aircraft
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U.S. Marines MV-22 Osprey Aircraft
Two U.S. Marines MV-22 Osprey Aircraft sit on the apron of Sydney International Airport in Australia, June 29, 2017. Picture taken June 29, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Reed
A U.S. Marines MV-22 Osprey Aircraft sits on the apron of Sydney International Airport in Australia, June 29, 2017. Picture taken June 29, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Reed
A U.S. Marines MV-22 Osprey Aircraft flies over a jet before landing on the deck of the USS Bonhomme Richard amphibious assault ship off the coast of Sydney, Australia June 29, 2017. Picture taken June 29, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Reed
A U.S. Marines MV-22 Osprey Aircraft flies over a jet before landing on the deck of the USS Bonhomme Richard amphibious assault ship off the coast of Sydney, Australia June 29, 2017. Picture taken June 29, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Reed
U.S. MV-22 Osprey aircrafts with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 268, lift off from Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii, U.S. on July 25, 2017. Picture taken on July 25, 2017. Courtesy Jesus Sepulveda Torres/U.S. Marine Corps/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
A U.S. Marine guides an MV-22B Osprey into position after the aircraft landed at Royal Australian Air Force Base Darwin, Australia on April 28, 2017. Picture taken on April 28, 2017. Courtesy Damion Hatch/U.S. Marine Corps/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
A U.S. MV-22B Ospreys aircraft with takes off to begin a deployment to Australia in support of Marine Rotational Force - Darwin, from Marine Corps Base Hawaii, U.S. on April 19, 2017. Picture taken on April 19, 2017. Courtesy Aaron S. Patterson/U.S. Marine Corps/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Journalists and officials board a U.S. Marines MV-22B Osprey Aircraft on the deck of the USS Bonhomme Richard amphibious assault ship off the coast of Sydney, Australia June 29, 2017. Picture taken June 29, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Reed
Journalists and officials fly aboard a U.S. Marines MV-22 Osprey Aircraft from the deck of the USS Bonhomme Richard amphibious assault ship off the coast of Sydney, Australia June 29, 2017. Picture taken June 29, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Reed
U.S. Marines MV-22 Osprey Aircraft sit on the deck of the USS Bonhomme Richard amphibious assault ship off the coast of Sydney, Australia June 29, 2017. Picture taken June 29, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Reed
A U.S. Marines MV-22 Osprey Aircraft lands on the deck of the USS Bonhomme Richard amphibious assault ship off the coast of Sydney, Australia June 29, 2017. Picture taken June 29, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Reed
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The U.S. Marine Corps said the incident was under investigation but gave no additional information.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who was on his first full day of vacation at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, was briefed on the situation by his chief of staff, retired MarineCorps General John Kelly, according to a White House official.

The incident took place off the coast of Shoalwater Bay, in Australia's northeastern state of Queensland, the Australian defense ministry said.

One person had been taken to Rockhampton hospital, a Queensland Ambulance spokesman said. He gave no further details.

The Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group was in Australia to participate in joint training maneuvers involving more than 33,000 U.S. and Australian military personnel, which ended two weeks ago.

The exercises included the participation of MV-22 Ospreys practicing the deployment of U.S. Marine reconnaissance teams.

The Osprey, built by Boeing Co and Textron Inc's Bell Helicopter unit, is designed to take off like a helicopter and rotate its propellers to fly like a plane.

Its development was nearly canceled after the deaths of 23 Marines during flight testing in 2000, but its speed and range have made it very popular in recent years.

In December, the U.S. military grounded its Osprey fleet in Japan after one of the aircraft ditched into the sea, injuring its crew of five when a hose connected to the aircraft broke during a refueling exercise.

Australia has sent troops to fight in the U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

(Reporting by Colin Packham and Tom Westbrook in SYDNEY and Jamie Freed in SINGAPORE, Jonathan Landay in WASHINGTON and Amy Tennery in BRIDGEWATER, N.J.; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Lisa Von Ahn)

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