The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), on Saturday, said that all the six people on board a military helicopter that went down off the coast of Greece on Wednesday were 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.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said 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’’.

“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 said.

According to the Canadian Armed Forces, 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.

About 240 sailors on board the Fredericton held an emotional vigil in memory of their fallen comrades.

The Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Jonathan Vance, said what complicated the issue was the inability of the rescuers after going far to recover all the fallen comrades.

The military said search crews had discovered additional remains at the crash site, but indicated that they cannot be identified at that period.

“The Canadian Armed Forces will be doing everything possible over the next several days to confirm known details with the families,’’ the military said.

However, NATO allies would continue its recovery efforts at the scene as HMCS Fredericton departs for a port in Italy.

Meanwhile, the Canadian warship was 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 would begin their work immediately upon arrival.

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.

He added that a few minutes later, Canadian sailors noticed flares in the water and immediately began search and rescue operations assisted by Turkish and Italian vessels.

According to Vance the voice and data flight recorders has been recovered and flown to Canada for analysis.

He noted that the flight recorders broke off the helicopter and floated up to the surface, but the rest of the wreckage might 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.

It added that it had 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 militarised 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. (dpa/NAN)


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