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Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Page: 4522

Senator FAULKNER (Minister for Defence) (7:27 PM) —by leave—About 11 o’clock this morning an Airlines PNG aircraft travelling from Port Moresby to Kokoda lost radio communication about 10 minutes from its destination. It appears that a number of Australians were on board and grave concerns are held for their safety. The aircraft has not yet been located but it is believed that the general vicinity of the crash site has been identified. Local search and rescue has begun. However, the aircraft is believed to have been lost in extremely dense and rugged terrain and weather conditions are extremely poor. I am sure all Australians and I know all senators will share the government’s concern about the welfare of those on board. Kokoda holds a very special place in the hearts of all Australians and we will do everything we can to aid this search and rescue operation. The Prime Minister spoke by telephone with the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Sir Michael Somare, just after five o’clock this afternoon. The Prime Minister offered the deployment of Australian defence assets to assist in the search. I can say that Sir Michael was grateful for this offer and agreed immediately.

I have directed the Chief of the Defence Force to make Australian Defence Force assets available to the government of PNG. Australian Defence Force assets are currently being prepared for deployment. HMAS Success, with an embarked Sea King helicopter, is being diverted from its current location near the Torres Strait and will arrive off Papua New Guinea by first light tomorrow. A Caribou is currently in Port Moresby for a separate activity, and it will be available for tasking from first light tomorrow. A C130 with a strategic aeromedical capability will depart overnight and will be ready to assist tomorrow morning. A fully equipped ground party will be on board to assist with search and recovery efforts. And two Black Hawks from the Sydney area are being prepared for movement by C17 and will be deployed tomorrow morning. The ADF will continue to closely monitor the situation and remains ready to provide further assistance if required. The high commissioner and defence attache are fully engaged with the PNG government, the PNG Defence Force and the search and rescue authorities and are providing the necessary coordination. Additionally, I can inform the Senate that an Australian maritime search and rescue Dornier 328 aircraft departed this afternoon to assist with the search and rescue efforts.

My colleague the Minister for Foreign Affairs will be making a statement about the role of his department, including the full range of consular issues regarding the Australians on board the plane. I should conclude by saying that of course the thoughts of us all are with the families of those who are on board this missing aircraft. I thank the Senate for providing me with an opportunity to make this statement and I particularly appreciate Senator Minchin’s courtesy.