22. Mefloquine Dispatches: Mil Mi-24, 2016

by Shane Granger

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 at the heart of the ‘Sandline Affair’. 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. At the time of the ‘Sandline Affair’ they had cannibalised the other ‘Hueys’ to empty shells.

The Australian Government then agreed to take the Russian helicopters (2x Mil Mi-24 and 2x Mi-8 transports) on the 27th of March 1997 as the PNG Parliament began to sort out the mess after Prime Minister Chan cut and run. 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.

What happened to the two Mil Mi-24 helicopters? 19-years later they were quietly buried in a Darwin dump (apparently riddled with asbestos). Via the ABC. Russian-built Mil Mi-24 attack helicopters buried in Darwin dump. Extract:

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.

Picture: ADF Serials Message Board