Sea King Down

The tragedy in Indonesia gives pause to an otherwise successful humanitarian mission in Aceh and now Nias. Bastards Inc has good coverage as does The Currency Lad Loosing these service people, a group that would unarguably fit into the category of ‘the cream of our youth’, is devastating and underlines the fact that the services operate on the edge and will, from time to time, come to grief. Already, pundits are attacking the Howard Government for maintaining the aging Sea Kings in service.
PRIME Minister John Howard today defended Australia’s use of the ageing Sea King helicopter, as the nation prepared to bury nine Australians killed when one of the craft went down in Indonesia.
“Defended Australia’s use…” comes from an ABC interview trying to get mileage from the tragedy before the bodies are even recovered. Neil James has an article in todays Australian that comes down fairly heavily on the Government for not replacing the Sea Kings. Neil James has an extensive military background but demands a perfect solution in a non-perfect world. Someone has to make the decisions as to what equipment is replaced and when and obviously priorities are placed on certain aspects. The tank drivers want the latest tank, The Fleet Air Arm – the latest helicopters, the fighter pilots – the latest jet, even truck drivers want the latest truck but everyone can’t have everything. Compromises are made and a balance is sought. I’m not suggesting that the debate shouldn’t happen, just that it should happen in a different venue and at a different time. By all accounts the Sea King is a good aircraft albeit the initial air frames, power plants and avionics are 70s based. Of course, this ancestory has little to do with the aircraft currently deployed on Kanimbla. I think you will find they will be like Grandads axe my father gave me. It’s had numerous handles and heads over the years but it’s still Grandads axe. All types of people with differing agendas will come to the fore over the near future and the likes of the ABC will pursue any story for it’s anti-Howard potential but what we should remember is this. Australia has lost nine highly qualified and dedicated people serving in very trying circumstances to help others in need. The flow-on of the feelings of dread and emptiness goes well beyond the immediate families. It includes the crew of the Kanimbla, their families, the service society generally and all those who hold dear the efforts of the Defence Forces. If you have ever basked in the recent praise of Australia’s humanitarian efforts in Indonesia then remember, it is due to the untiring efforts of these people.


  • I’m not that familiar with Sea Kings and their quirks. However I know that age doesn’t necessarily mean obselete. Examples are the C-130 and B-52….both products of the 1950’s. Both are still mainstays of the U.S. air fleet albeit extremely upgraded models.

  • I think Neil James makes some good points. Unfortunately, it’s only moments like these when people seem to take any notice of ageing military equipment.

    Let’s hope we don’t keep our Sea Kings as long as the Canadians.

  • Kev: Just heard on ABC Radio that all deceased to receive Indonesia’s Medal of Honour. (Presumably, so too will survivors). No comfort but a good gesture.

  • CL – That is good news and a great tribute from the Indons.

    Chris – Neil definitely has some good points but the same rationale could be used to replace nearly half of the kit in the ADF inventory. We have never been able to buy everything we want and compromises are always made. In this case, Neil’s comments are only valid after age is proven as the cause

  • One of the victims, Lt Paul Kimlin of HMAS Albatross, Nowra, was part of the ABCs Enough Rope Anzac Day Special last year – Transcript at

  • No aircraft in military service is the same plane it was when it came off the line. Its structure, wiring, and components are continually being upgraded and repaired. Helicopters are prime candidates for Structural Life Extension Programs which go through and rebuild any fatigue-threatened parts.

    Hard to beat an old Huey or H-3. Even the H-53 is in its forties.

  • Grandfathers axe they may be, but 30 years is 30 years and even the parts will age. I’ll be very interested in the findings of the military’s enquiry. I’ll also warrant we….the public…. never hear of them.

  • I don’t know why you’d think that NIALL. Every other crash investigation by the military has been released publicly. Professional aviators, which you are not, read through the contents of them every day.

  • PS. Fine words Kev. I quite agree with all points you’ve raised. Now is not the time or place, but it is warranted for another time.