Canadian military helicopter crashes in sea off Greece; 1 dead, 5 missing

OTTAWA (Reuters) – One body has been recovered and five people are missing after a Canadian military helicopter crashed in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Greece on Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday.

The HMCS Fredericton, participating in NATO’s Operation Reassurance meant to bolster security in Central and Eastern Europe, lost contact with a CH-148 Cyclone helicopter during a training exercise.

“All of them are heroes. Each of them will leave a void that cannot be filled,” Trudeau said in a news conference.

“The cause of this accident is unknown at this time,” Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan said. The aircraft’s data and voice recorders have been recovered, he said.

General Jonathan Vance, Chief of the Defence Staff, said there was a “very sizable debris field” in an area of the Ionian Sea where the aircraft crashed.

“We will leave no stone unturned,” in the search for survivors, Sajjan told Reuters in a telephone interview. “Regrettably, this incident is another example of the dangers that our women and men face every single day.”

Vance said the body recovered was that of Abbigail Cowbrough. Tanya Cowbrough, the mother of Abbigail, commented on Facebook: “Nothing can replace her.”

“I am broken and gutted,” Shane Cowbrough, Abbigail’s father, wrote on Facebook. “There are no words. You made me forever proud. I will love you always, and miss you in every moment. You are the bright light in my life taken far too soon.”

The names of those missing are Matthew Cousins, Kevin Hagen, Ian MacDonald, Maxime Miron-Morin, and Matthew Pyke, the Department of National Defence said.

It would be Canada’s single deadliest military tragedy in 13 years if search efforts do not locate any survivors. In July 2007, six soldiers were killed together by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.

Canada’s military put its Cyclone helicopters on an “operational pause” after the crash, Vance said, until a “fleet-wide” problem can be ruled out. The Cyclone is made by Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky unit.

“I don’t have concerns about the helicopter,” Vance said. Canada currently has 15 Cyclones in operation. “It’s performed terrifically. It’s got 9,000 hours on the fleet.”

About 2,100 Canadian Armed Forces members are deployed around the world, and some 915 people are part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Operation Assurance.

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