The incident took place on Melville Island, just off the northern coast of Australia on Sunday around 9.30am, when a MV-22B Osprey aircraft with 23 Marines on board crashed and caught fire.
“Jill and I send our deepest condolences to the families of the Marines who lost their lives in this deadly crash,” Mr Biden said in a post on X, formerly Twitter. “We are praying for those who also suffered injuries.”
The 20 survivors were flown from Royal Darwin Hospital, of whom 12 have been discharged and have returned to the barracks. Eight Marines remain admitted to the hospital, with one in the intensive care unit.
The Osprey that crashed was one of the two that flew from Darwin to Melville on Sunday as part of Exercise Predators Run, which involves the militaries of the US, Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines and East Timor.
All 23 Marines aboard the lost aircraft were temporarily based in Darwin as part of the Marine Corps’ annual troop rotation.
Jill and I send our deepest condolences to the families of the Marines who lost their lives in this deadly crash. We are praying for those who also suffered injuries. https://t.co/sztAUHbpeB
— President Biden (@POTUS) August 28, 2023
Around 150 US Marines are currently based in Darwin and up to 2,500 rotate through the city every year. They are part of a realignment of US forces in the Asia-Pacific that is broadly meant to face an increasingly assertive China.
The bodies of the dead Marines remained at the crash site, where an exclusion zone will be maintained, with responders, including members of the Australian military and the US Marines, now focusing on recovering their remains, said Northern Territory police commissioner Michael Murphy.
“The mission has now changed from one of rescue to recovery,” he told a news conference. “The emergency operations centre will now focus on the recovery of the three deceased marines with dignity.”
The cause of the crash had yet to be explained and investigators will remain at the site for at least 10 days, Mr Murphy said.
The Osprey, a hybrid aircraft that takes off and lands like a helicopter but can tilt its propellers forward and cruise much faster like an airplane during flight, had crashed into a tropical forest and burst into flames.
Emergency responders were surprised the death toll was not higher.
“For a chopper that crashes and catches fire, to have 20 Marines that are surviving, I think that’s an incredible outcome,” Mr Murphy said.
“Our thoughts are with the three Marines that have died during service for their country, and our thoughts go out to their country, to the United States Marine Corps and all their colleagues and friends,” he said.
Australian defence minister Richard Marles was also grateful the toll was not worse.
“It’s remarkable that in many ways, so many have survived,” Mr Marles told Nine News television.
“This remains a very tragic incident and the loss of those lives are keenly felt,” Mr Marles said.
US defence secretary Lloyd Austin also paid tribute to the dead Marines.
Additional reporting by agencies