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Relics of B’ville crisis buried in Darwin dump

Russian-built Mil Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters at RAAF Base Tindal  1997
Russian-built Mil Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters at RAAF Base Tindal, 1997

| Australian Broadcasting Corporation | Extract

DARWIN - It is an unlikely setting for the final chapter of an international diplomatic scandal, but Darwin's waste dump holds an extraordinary secret beneath the surface.

"A few years ago, we had a couple of shipping containers turn up here that were required to be buried," Nik Kleine, the City of Darwin's executive manager of waste and capital works, said.

The containers had arrived from the Royal Australian Air Force base at Tindal, near Katherine.

"We were alerted that [there] were aircraft in those containers," Mr Kleine said.

Until now, the specific details of the aircraft remained a mystery outside the Defence community.

But the Defence Department has confirmed to the ABC the aircraft buried in the hazardous waste section of the tip in 2016 were two Russian-made military attack helicopters.

The Mi-24 Hind gunships had been part of a saga known as the Sandline Affair, which made international headlines in the late 1990s.

"It just adds some notoriety to the site, I suppose," Mr Kleine said.

Australia controversially took possession of the choppers in March 1997, after a giant cargo plane transporting the military equipment to Papua New Guinea was diverted to the Northern Territory.

The attack helicopters were part of a $US34 million (K115 million) deal the PNG government had signed with a UK-based private military company called Sandline International.

The choppers, along with several dozen mercenaries, were intended to be deployed in Bougainville in a bid to quash secessionists on the island.

But the plan never eventuated: the mercenaries were booted out of PNG, the country's prime minister Sir Julius Chan was forced to resign, and the cargo plane never made it to its destination.

Instead, it ended up at the Tindal RAAF base, where details about the cargo were initially kept from the public.

The ownership dispute between the PNG government and Sandline International lasted for more than a decade and left the Australian government with little choice but to indefinitely keep hold of the choppers.

It was not until 2016 — almost two decades after the Sandline Affair — that the choppers were finally removed from Tindal.

"The two Mi-24 helicopters were stored at RAAF Base Tindal between March 1997 and July 2016 pending the status of the equipment and subsequent decisions relating to the most effective method of disposal," Defence said in a statement.

Shoal Bay Waste Management Facility in Darwin
Shoal Bay Waste Management Facility in Darwin

"A technical assessment was conducted to ensure that any hazardous materials were removed or contained.

"The helicopters were subsequently disposed of via containment burial at the Shoal Bay Landfill site in Darwin in July 2016."

While Darwin's waste dump now marks the final chapter of the helicopters' story, the issues that brought them to Australia are yet to be fully resolved.

But that could change next month, when Bougainville's 300,000 people begin casting their votes in an independence referendum.


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Arthur Williams

Thanks for that info Keith. The Daily Mail in Oz had the story with some good pics.

Re asbestos I liked one of the comments posted about the story to the Daily Mail:

"LotusLeaf, Perth, Australia, 2 days ago - Australia's grounds are full of hazardous wastes. I worked for a waste company in Western Australia for many years. The amount of asbestos for disposal was phenomenal.

"Of course I was required to pass these queries to my boss who handled the pickup of and the disposal of 100's of tons of the stuff. Those two Russia helicopters are nothing compared to that."

We are having asbestos removed from a few building in Wales including a school. A government report claims 85% of all Welsh schools have asbestos in their buildings. Didn't much affect young men playing Rugby Union. Even had an asbestos roof on my chapel which was built just after end of WW2 removed after storm damage in 2007.

"Of course in PNG all of us have worked or lived in fibro walled or even fibro roofed buildings. Seems that too is banned now in Oz. Even in Taskul Patrol Post office."

Fibro (fibrous cement) is safe until impaired in some way (e.g., by cutting or sawing). Australian manufacturer James Hardie hid its lethal qualities for decades - and subsequently paid a big price. But not as big a price as the poor sods who developed asbestosis and mesothelioma - KJ

Arthur Williams

My uncle purloined a beautiful stainless steel draughtsman's kit in a lovely leather case.

It was about to be dumped in a hole in the ground in Karachi or perhaps Cawnpore at the end of the World War 2.

As with the Sandline choppers, planes too were being bulldozed into holes along with all the millions of spare parts for every sort of equipment that the war needed, then covered with rocks and soil.

Uncle’s ‘theft’ was a tiny part of military kit that the usual capitalist controllers of its peasants said could not be returned to the UK or given to India as it would upset the return of the same capitalists’ factories to making non-war products.

Mind you many of the same capitalists had also given massive loans to the UK government to pay for the equipment that the capitalists sent out for the military to use and which they now got the RAF or Army to destroy.

The interest for World War 1 war loans only technically ceased in 2015 because the UK’s bean-counter (sorry Finance Minister Osborne) actually rolled over the debt to some other entity - most likely the banks.

I just found out that World War 2 debts to USA and Canada were paid off on just in 2006. So much for the saying ‘To the Victor The Spoils’

My concern is: Are there really two Russian helicopters in those containers or do they hold thousands of empty stubbies from a RSL legs up?

Surely the Oz and/or PNG government knew of the scrap value of these flying tanks that weighed around 8 tonnes each and even had lots of highly expensive titanium in them.

Were there no scrap-merchants in Darwin able to turn them into dollars? Or is it a false story put about by some PNG/Oz spivs.

I still recall the Post Courier story of the aborted Sandline/Executive Outcomes fiasco when PM Chan is said to have escaped the encircled parliament dressed as a copper.

Of course the leader Tim Spicer was not dismayed by his failure to get hold of Panguna but went on to become rich in mercenary-like business through Aegis Defence Services.

In fact Spicer’s company got awarded a US$300 million contract in post invasion Iraq. Then an even better one in 2011 when Aegis got a US$497 million contract in Afghanistan. One of their expenses is to pay Sierra Leone security workers $11 a day in not so peaceful Kabul.

An Executive Outcomes conspirator in 1997 was Simon Mann who also loved the espionage trade and attempted yet another aborted coup in Equatorial Guinea in 2004 when a helpful colleague was Mark Thatcher son of the UK PM who got found out but ‘unbelievably’ for some reason, was saved from jail.

I have a Times magazine with pics of Simon starting to serve his 34 year sentence but within a year he was released on humanitarian grounds.

Oh this ‘2 buried containers of planes’ story is a fascinating glimpse into PNG’s murky past and is symptomatic of how the outside world not in UNO or APEC really views the resource rich but lightly regulated, under-developed, less developed, emerging, 3rd world nations or whatever you want to call them. Sadly PNG continues to suffer from the effects of flogging its resources too cheaply to the massive detriment of its people.

Mind our current government has recently said, “in future contracts things are going to be different!’ That gave the green light to vastly rich Total to continue with its very profitable deal from the PNG government for the Gulf LNG where experts have said several times over the years that extraction in PNG is a low cost venture.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité and F... the natives.

Arthur, it seems the choppers were reeking with asbestos and could not be economically restored to their fighting weight, hence the dumping - KJ

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