22. Mefloquine Dispatches: Mil Mi-24, 27th March 1997

by Shane Granger

Cabinet papers are a source that I have been meaning to research.

Using 1998/99 cabinet papers Andrew Probyn from the Australian Broadcasting Commission has put together this piece on the fate of the Russian gunships owned by the Sandline mercenaries that we might have faced if we had of been deployed on the 22nd March 1997. Secrets of how Russian attack helicopters came to Australia revealed 20 years later. Extract:

The $50 million deal, signed in January 1997 to the horror of the then Howard government, would have seen foreign mercenaries flown in to destroy the Bougainville rebellion, using second-hand military equipment.

But two months later, on March 27, 1997, Australia agreed to a request from the PNG government to accept custody of the gear bought by PNG from Sandline.

“The PNG government was concerned about the delivery of the equipment to PNG in the uncertain political circumstance that prevailed at the time,” then defence minister John Moore wrote in his confidential cabinet submission.

At the time of the controversial purchase the PNG armed forces had a helicopter fleet consisting of five Bell UH-1 Iroquois of which only one was serviceable.

It also reaffirms an important date for me. I remember being stood down after three-days, which would have been the 24th March 1997. The PNG Prime Minister (Chan) had left parliament due to massive protests to his rule during those three days. The Australian Government then agreed to take the Russian helicopters (2x Mil Mi-24 and 2x Mi-8 transports) on the 27th March 1997 as the PNG Parliament began to sort out the mess.

There was also a cache of other fixed wing aircraft that Sandline had purchased and the PNG government kept but were never used in combat.

I now wonder what happened to those planes?

Mil Mi-24 -2

Picture: The Drive

 

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