Sydney: The US Marine Corps called off search and rescue efforts for three missing service members Sunday after an American military aircraft crashed off Australia’s coast.

Twenty-three personnel were quickly rescued following the incident involving a MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor, the primary assault support aircraft for the Marines, on Saturday. But three marines remain missing despite a search operation supported by aircraft and ships.

“Operations have now shifted to recovery efforts. The next-of-kin for the three missing Marines have been notified," US Marines based in Japan said in a statement. “As the sea state permits, recovery efforts will be conducted to further search, assess and survey the area, in coordination and with assistance from the Australian Defence Force."

The Marines said the recovery and salvage operations could take several months to complete, while the cause of the incident was currently being investigated.

The MV-22, which is half-helicopter half-turboprop, has two engines positioned on fixed wing tips that allow it to land and take off vertically. It also has the ability to travel much faster than a helicopter.

It was in the region as part of the Australian-US joint military exercise Talisman Sabre, which has just concluded in Queensland state.

There have been a series of deadly incidents, mostly in the United States, involving the aircraft. In April 2000, 19 Marines were killed in an MV-22 crash in the US.

Locals on the Japanese island of Okinawa have protested against the deployment of the MV-22 to a US airbase in the middle of a crowded city.

In December, a “controlled landing" of the controversial hybrid aircraft just off the coast during a training flight sparked local anger. The aircraft was in pieces after the incident and no-one was killed.

Local campaigners say they cannot tolerate accidents, as well as noise and crimes committed by US service members.

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