The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) on Friday said that all six people on board a military helicopter that went down off the coast of Greece on Wednesday are now presumed dead.
The helicopter deployed on board Canadian frigate HMCS Fredericton was participating in NATO exercises when it suddenly crashed into the Ionian Sea about 80 kilometres west of the Greek Island of Kefalonia.
‘Today, with the call to end the search and rescue mission, I join all Canadians in mourning the loss of six Canadian Armed Forces members in the CH-148 Cyclone helicopter accident near Greece earlier this week,’ Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement.
‘Our thoughts are with all of the families and loved ones of these Canadian heroes, and with the entire Canadian Armed Forces, as they grieve this tragedy,’ Trudeau added.
The body of one of the crew members was recovered shortly after the crash, but the other five people aboard the helicopter were not located, the Canadian Armed Forces said Friday.
About 240 sailors on board the Fredericton held an emotional vigil in memory of their fallen comrades.
‘What makes this all the more difficult to bear is our inability - thus far - to recover all of our fallen comrades,’ General Jonathan Vance, chief of defence staff, said in a statement.
The military said search crews had discovered additional remains at the crash site, but indicated that they cannot be identified at this time.
‘The Canadian Armed Forces will be doing everything possible over the next several days to confirm known details with the families,’ the military said in a statement.
NATO allies will be continuing recovery efforts at the scene as HMCS Fredericton departs for a port in Italy, the statement said. The Canadian warship is expected to arrive in Italy on May 2.
A team of accident investigators from the Royal Canadian Air Force left Canada on Friday to investigate the circumstances of the accident and will begin their work immediately upon arrival, the statement said.
On Thursday, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said the CH-148 Cyclone helicopter was on a training flight when it went down.
Vance said the helicopter was participating in exercises along with Turkish and Italian navies off the coast of Greece and was returning to land on the Canadian frigate when contact with the aircraft was lost on Wednesday afternoon.
A few minutes later, Canadian sailors noticed flares in the water and immediately began search and rescue operations assisted by Turkish and Italian vessels, he said.
Vance said the voice and data flight recorders have been recovered and are being flown to Canada for analysis.
Vance said the flight recorders broke off the helicopter and floated up to the surface, but the rest of the wreckage may be at a depth of about 3,000 metres.
The Canadian military has put all its remaining Cyclone helicopters ‘on operational pause’ until the circumstances of the crash are investigated but added that he has ‘a lot of confidence’ in the state-of-the-art submarine-hunting aircraft.
‘It's a powerful helicopter with fantastic sensing capability,’ Vance said.
The Cyclone is a militarized version of the Sikorsky S-92 helicopter.
There have been other incidents with Cyclone helicopters, which replaced Canada's ageing Sea King helicopters.
In February 2019, a Cyclone helicopter operating from HMCS Regina made a hard landing on supply ship Asterix while working off the coast of Hawaii in the Pacific.
Vance said that incident was caused by strong crosswinds that made landing the aircraft particularly challenging.
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