SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Australian defense officials believe a fuel spill was to blame for an explosion in a portable toilet Monday morning that left one of their airmen in serious condition.

The unidentified man, who was taking part in participating in the Talisman Sabre 2011 exercise, was being treated at Specialist Burns Unit of the Royal Brisbane Hospital on Monday night, a Department of Defence spokesperson said in an emailed response to Stripes. According to the Australian newspaper the Courier-Mail, the airman suffered life-threatening third-degree burns to his head, face, arms, chest and airways.

Defence officials said that the source of ignition has yet to be determined.

“While the investigation is ongoing and exact details are still unclear, Defence believes the RAAF airman may have been exposed to a fuel spill, with the substance igniting while he was in the portable toilet,” the spokesperson said in an email.

Meanwhile, an Australian soldier injured during the exercise Friday when an armored vehicle rolled down an embankment at the Shoalwater Bay Training Area, north of Rockhampton, underwent surgery and remains in serious but stable condition in Brisbane and is expected to recover fully, officials said Wednesday. Eight other Australian servicemembers injured in the incident were transferred from Rockhampton Base Hospital to the Camp Rocky medical facility for monitoring before returning to their units, the spokesman said.

Talisman Sabre, a bi-annual military and humanitarian exercise involving some 22,000 personnel, runs through Friday.

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Matthew M. Burke has been reporting from Grafenwoehr, Germany, for Stars and Stripes since 2024. The Massachusetts native and UMass Amherst alumnus previously covered Okinawa, Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, for the news organization. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times and other publications.

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