The Canadian military is still determining how to raise the wreckage of a military helicopter that crashed into the Mediterranean Sea last week, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said Thursday.
The crash killed six members of the Canadian Forces, though the remains of only one, Sub-Lt. Abbigail Cowbrough, have been recovered.
“We are actively working on options to recover the remaining fuselage, which will assist with the investigation,” Sajjan said. A seven-member team investigating the exact reasons for the crash is working from Italy, he said, and a parallel military investigation of the related circumstances is also underway.
The flight data recorders have been recovered and are being analyzed in Canada.
“This could take … over a year,” Sajjan said. But the families of the dead will be kept informed and so will the public, he promised.
Chief of the defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance said the crash will be probed thoroughly but details about what happened to the Cyclone helicopter won’t be revealed in dribs and drabs.
“What you must know is that when that investigation is complete, or when it’s appropriate in the judgment of the (investigators), the families will be told first. Unadulterated, told exactly what they’ve got,” Vance said. “And then the public will be told. And so I know there’s great interest in speed here. We’re more interested in accuracy. There’s nothing self-evident about a crash.”
The helicopter was deployed aboard HMCS Fredericton on a NATO mission. The military says it was returning to the ship after a training exercise when it crashed.
Military statements, and Vance himself, first said the ship had “lost contact” with the helicopter, though the Forces later acknowledged that crew aboard the Fredericton saw it go down in deep water.
He said Thursday that the emphasis immediately after the crash was on seeking survivors, which was why the operation was first labelled a “search and rescue,” though it later came to be called a recovery.
“The reporting was done as best as we could, given the frantic, professional, intense effort by that crew, doing what they needed to do, and at the same time report up,” Vance said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended a repatriation ceremony at Canadian Forces Base Trenton on Wednesday, for Cowbrough’s remains and symbols of the other five crash victims who are missing and presumed dead.
Those are Capt. Brenden Ian MacDonald, Capt. Kevin Hagen, Capt. Maxime Miron-Morin, Sub-Lt. Matthew Pyke, and Master Cpl. Matthew Cousins
Trudeau said Thursday that he’d spoken to each of the six service members’ loved ones.
“All of them were heartbroken but all of them were also immensely proud of the life of service chosen by their loved one, as are we all,” Trudeau said.
Sajjan said he had given Cowbrough her degree when she graduated from the Royal Military College and met Cousins in 2016 aboard HMCS Charlottetown.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 7, 2020