The search and rescue mission for six members aboard a Canadian military helicopter that crashed off the coast of Greece has now transitioned into a recovery mission.
A news release on Friday afternoon said only one CAF member — Sub-Lt. Abbigail Cowbrough of Nova Scotia — has been confirmed dead.
The other five members who were aboard the aircraft are now officially considered missing and presumed dead.
“Col. James Hawthorne and I cannot begin to express the depth of our sadness that something like this has occurred to our shipmates,” said Rear Admiral Craig Baines.
“To the families, friends and loved ones of all six members who were on board the helicopter, we wish to express our deepest sympathies.”
Those who remain missing include:
- Capt. Brenden Ian MacDonald, a pilot, originally from New Glasgow, N.S.
- Capt. Kevin Hagen, a pilot, originally from Nanaimo, B.C.
- Capt. Maxime Miron-Morin, an air combat systems officer, originally from Trois-Rivières, Que.
- Sub-Lt. Matthew Pyke, a naval weapons officer, originally from Truro, N.S.
- Master Cpl. Matthew Cousins, an airborne electronic sensor operator, originally from Guelph, Ont.
Hawthorne shared a few details of each crew member.
“These proud military members died heroes, and we will always remember them,” he said.
He described MacDonald as a “proud father of a house full of boys and one of three siblings in the Canadian Armed Forces.”
“Capt. Kevin Hagen’s family describe him as a truly loyal, compassionate, accepting and supportive brother,” he said.
Miron-Morin wanted to served in the Canadian Armed Forces ever since he was a teenaged cadet – he achieved that goal when “he became an air combat systems operator in the Royal Canadian Air Force,” Hawthorne said.
Cousins was “an outstanding aviator” who kept his crew “focused on the mission,” he said.
Cowbrough and Pyke were “not only brothers and sisters in arms, they were friends,” he added.
The CAF said Thursday that all primary family members of those involved in the crash have been contacted.
During a Friday afternoon briefing, Baines said additional remains were discovered during the search but cannot be identified at this time and will be brought back to Canada next week.
“We will be doing everything possible in the days ahead to identify these remains,” he said. “This most likely will not occur until they are returned to Canada.”
HMCS Fredericton, along with several NATO countries, including Italy, Greece, the United States and Turkey, has been assisting in the search in the Ionian Sea since the crash occurred.
Baines said the decision to transition the search to one of recovery was not taken lightly.
“While searches on the sea are never easy, these units have completely saturated the area for the duration of the search over a known crash location,” said Baines.
“We are certain that if there were survivors, we would have found them within the past 48 hours.”
The cause of the crash is currently unknown. The crash led the commander of the First Canadian Air Division to order an “operational pause” for the CH-148 Cyclone helicopter fleet, Hawthorne said. It’s not known how long the pause will remain in effect.
“The operational pause was put in place as a safety precaution while the Royal Canadian Air Force’s directorate of flight safety investigates the accident, with the objective of quickly identifying effective preventative measures that will either prevent or reduce the risks of similar occurrences in the future,” he said.
Baines announced Thursday that a cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder were recovered during the initial search. On Friday, he said additional debris associated with the helicopter has been located, including a side door and pieces of the fuselage.
Now that it’s been switched to a recovery mission, Baines said HMCS Fredericton will proceed to Italy and is expected to arrive Saturday morning local time.
“Before the ship departs the scene of the crash, the ship’s company will hold a vigil to pay tribute to our fallen shipmates.”