Search concludes for crashed chopper and lost Canadian service members

A Canadian naval commander says the search and recovery mission for the military helicopter that crashed in the Mediterranean Sea in April, killing six Canadian service members, is over.

The CH-148 Cyclone helicopter was returning to dock on HMCS Fredericton when it went down inexplicably on April 29, killing everyone on board — two sailors and four aircrew. It had been out on a routine maritime surveillance exercise involving other NATO warships.

The body of 23-year-old Sub-Lt. Abbigail Cowbrough was recovered shortly after the crash and returned to her family in Nova Scotia last month. The partial remains of one of the Cyclone’s pilots, Capt. Brenden Ian MacDonald, were also retrieved from the crash scene.

Last week, the recovery ship EDL Hercules arrived at the crash site and the remotely operated REMORA III quickly located the sunken helicopter, about 400 kilometres east of Catania, Italy.

Corp. Chris Rodusek, second from the left, guides a CH-148 Cyclone helicopter into position aboard HMCS Fredericton during Operation Reassurance on Jan. 22, 2020. (Cpl. Simon Arcand/Canadian Armed Forces/Combat Camera)

At a news briefing Wednesday, Rear-Admiral Craig Baines said the recovery mission was called off Tuesday after recovering pieces of the helicopter and some human remains.

Baines said that “no portion of the main cabin was left intact,” and pieces of the helicopter were found in clusters over a debris field of about 260 metres by 230 metres.

Helicopter components that are necessary for the ongoing crash investigation were recovered, while other pieces were left on the ocean floor. Baines said some larger pieces were too difficult to recover because of the depth of the water — about 3,000 metres — and had no value for the investigation.

Baines said the human remains have not been identified.

“I cannot tell you whether we have found everyone,” said Baines.

He said the remains will be returned to Canada this weekend and identified by a forensic pathologist. Family will be notified of the findings first, and then the public, Baines said.

The military put all Cyclone helicopters on an “operational pause” after the April crash. Col. James Hawthorne, an air force commander in Halifax, said the Cyclones will remain grounded as the flight safety investigation continues.

Hawthorne said the initial results of the investigation could be released “in the next couple of weeks.”

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