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A supplied image obtained from the U.S. Defence Force on August 6, 2017 shows search efforts for three U.S. Marines missing after their MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft crashed into the sea off Australia's northeast coast. III MEF Marines, MC2 Sarah Villegas/Handout via REUTERS

(reuters_tickers)

By James Regan

SYDNEY (Reuters) - An Australian Navy survey ship has located a U.S. military aircraft that crashed off the Australian northeast coast at the weekend, killing three Marines, Defence Minister Marise Payne said on Monday.

The navy divers will conduct remotely operated underwater vehicle operations before considering sending down divers, Payne said in a statement.

The U.S. Defence Department identified the three Marines as First Lieutenant Benjamin Cross, 26, of Oxford, Maine; Corporal Nathaniel Ordway, 21, of Sedgwick, Kansas; and Private First Class Ruben Velasco, 19, of Los Angeles.

Their MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft crashed while on regular operations on Saturday after taking off from the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) amphibious assault ship, the Marines Corps said. The Marines have described the incident as a "mishap" and said it was under investigation.

Twenty-three other personnel aboard the aircraft were rescued.

The Marine Corps said earlier it had shifted from a search-and-rescue effort to a recovery operation, which could last several months.

"Royal Australian Navy survey ship Melville arrived in Shoalwater Bay overnight," Payne said in the statement. "Shortly after commencing survey operations in the area, the submerged aircraft was located."

(Additional reporting by Eric Beech in Washington; Editing by Nick Macfie and Sandra Maler)

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