Marines killed in aircraft tragedy finally return to US

The bodies of three US marines who died in a military plane crash in the Northern Territory have started the long journey home.

Captain Eleanor LeBeau, 29, Corporal Spencer Collart, 21, and Major Tobin Lewis, 37, died while taking part in a military exercise on August 26 when their MV-22 Osprey aircraft plunged on remote Melville Island, 80km north of Darwin.

Their bodies were recovered from the rubble last week and have been in Darwin for six days to be prepared for the flight home to loved ones in the US.

A private ceremony attended by marines, military personnel, NT Administrator Hugh Heggie and NT Acting Chief Minister Nicole Manison was held on Monday night.

"Our deepest heartfelt condolences to their families and to the Marine Corps," Ms Manison said.

"They are a deep part of the Northern Territory."

Captain LeBeau and Major Lewis were the pilots of the Osprey and Corporal Collart was crew chief.

All three had been awarded numerous service medals.

More than 20 other marines were injured in the crash, with one soldier still in a critical condition at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne.

Emergency services are still at the crash site as they work through what led to the tragedy.

"This recovery and investigation will be prolonged, enduring and complex," NT police commissioner Michael Murphy said last week.

An emergency call came through from air traffic control at the time of the incident, with an American voice asking for help.

"We are just declaring an emergency, we have Dumptruck 11 flight single MV-22 in the vicinity of Melville Island," the voice said.

"Contact 33, search and rescue is requesting … if there is fire?" an Australian voice asked six minutes later.

"There is a significant fire in the vicinity of the crash site. Looks like it is not spreading, but there is a significant fire," responds the American voice.

"We are planning to be at the crash site for at least 10 days."

The Marine Osprey aircraft has a tumultuous history, with a number of mechanical and operational issues since its introduction in the 1980s.

Since 2012, 19 people have died in six crashes involving the Osprey which is used by the US and Japan.

The incident occurred during Exercise Predator's Run 2023 and no Australian members were involved.

About 150 US marines are stationed in Darwin for the military drills alongside personnel from Australia, the Philippines, East Timor and Indonesia.

Exercises on the island were cancelled after the incident but mainland exercises have resumed.

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