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Army helicopter crash blamed on skipped software patch


April 18, 2023

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Army helicopter crash blamed on skipped software patch

The emergency ditching of an Australian military helicopter in the water just off a beach in New South Wales, has been blamed on the failure to apply a software patch.

At approximately 9pm on March 23, a MRH-90 Taipan helicopter operated by the Australian army ditched into Jervis Bay, during what should have been a routine counter-terrorism training operation.

Thankfully, tragedy was averted, and all ten Australian Defence Force personnel on board were recovered and accounted for, with two said to have sustained just "minor injuries."

Australian authorities are said to be conducting a safety investigation to explore the reasons for the incident, but ABC News reports that army insiders claim that a software update that could have prevented engine failures had not been installed on Australia's entire fleet of MRH-90 Taipan helicopters.

"...several figures familiar with the Taipan fleet say a simple IT patch could prevent the potentially devastating "hot starting" of the aircraft. A "hot start" occurs when a pilot restarts the engine during a mission, shortly after powering down, instead of simply leaving the engine to idle before taking off again."

In April 2010, a "catastrophic" engine failure during an MRH-90 Taipan training flight resulted in the development of a software fix which was designed to make it impossible to perform an unsafe "hot start."

However, ADF sources who declined to be identified told ABC News that the software updated had only ever been installed on a small number of Australia's now 47-strong fleet of MRH-90 Taipan helicopters.

If it is the case that the emergency ditching of the helicopter was the result of a failure to install a software update, then it acts as a salutary lesson to everyone who relies on technology to keep their systems updated.

Although the message to stay "up-to-date" is one that is familiar to many computer users (even if they sometimes choose to delay installing patches) it's particularly important if you are relying upon a piece of machinery which (if it crashed) could cause the loss of life.




Graham Cluley is an award-winning security blogger, researcher and public speaker. He has been working in the computer security industry since the early 1990s.

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