Cyclone probe could take more than a year
OTTAWA — The investigation into a helicopter crash off the coast of Greece last week that killed six Canadian Armed Forces members could take more than a year, officials say.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance provided an update on the status of the investigation Thursday, a day after a repatriation ceremony for the fallen members took place at CFB Trenton.
“We continue the search for the remaining five fallen heroes. In addition to the ongoing flight safety investigation we are actively working to recover the fuselage, which will assist with the investigation,” Sajjan told reporters.
The Department of National Defence confirmed separately that Canada's fleet of CH-148 Cyclone helicopters remain at an operational pause, which will remain in place until officials can rule out a fleet-wide problem with the choppers.
“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 preventive measures that will either prevent or reduce the risk of similar occurrences in the future,” a spokesperson told Saltwire Network.
“It is not yet known how long the operational pause will be in effect.”
The CH-148 Cyclone is a militarized version of the Sikorsky S-92 helicopter, and replaced Canada's fleet of Sea Kings in 2018.
Sajjan said a Canadian Armed Forces flight safety investigation team comprised of seven personnel is overseas investigating the circumstances of the accident. The team includes investigators, a medical adviser, a technical engineer adviser and a representative from Sikorsky.
The flight data voice recorders that were recovered following the crash are now in Canada, and are being analyzed by the National Research Council, Sajjan said.
“Concurrently, separate military investigations will be conducted to help determine the potential causes of the incident and to facilitate administrative support to family members,” Sajjan said.
“These thorough and professional investigations will help find the answers the families deserve.”
Sajjan said the investigations into the crash could take more than a year to complete.
Vance said information about the crash or any eyewitness reports are not going to be released to the public “in dribs and drabs” and will all come out together as a proper flight safety investigation report. He assured that witnesses will be included in the investigation and that full details will be released, when appropriate, first to family members and then to the public.
“The flight safety team is like the Transportation Safety Board. We've got to give them all the room and authority to proceed at the pace that they can,” he said.
“I know there's great interest in speed here. We're more interested in accuracy.”
The Royal Canadian Air Force CH-148 Cyclone helicopter from 12 Wing Shearwater was participating in North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) training exercises with HMCS Fredericton off the west coast of Greece last Wednesday. It had concluded flight operations and was returning to HMCS Fredericton when, approximately 7 p.m. local time, it crashed into the Ionian Sea.
The search and recovery efforts have been ongoing since. The Department of National Defence has confirmed there were eyewitnesses to the accident.
The body of one of the members, Sub-lt. Abbigail Cowbrough, originally from Toronto, was recovered in the hours after the crash, and five others remain missing but are presumed dead. Those individuals are Capt. Brenden Ian Macdonald, from New Glasgow, N.S., Capt. Kevin Hagen, from Nanaimo, B.C., Capt. Maxime Miron-morin, from Trois-rivieres, Que., Sub-lt. Matthew Pyke, from Truro, N.S., and Master Cpl. Matthew Cousins, from Guelph, Ont.
Additional remains were recovered, but have not yet been identified.
Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance.