TORONTO (AP) — One person is dead and five are missing after a military helicopter operating off a Canadian frigate during a NATO exercise crashed into the sea between Greece and Italy, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday.
Trudeau said one body had been found, and the five others aboard the aircraft were missing.
“We hold out hope to find the missing,” Trudeau said.
The Cyclone helicopter was deployed on board the Halifax-class frigate HMCS Fredericton and was participating in a NATO training exercise off the coast of Greece when the incident occurred, according to the Canadian Armed Forces.
Gen. Jonathan Vance, Canada’s top military official, said the ship that lost contact with the aircrew Wednesday evening and that flares were spotted from the water minutes later. Vance said flares would have been fired automatically when the aircraft ditched.
He confirmed that the body of Abbigail Cowbrough was recovered. The Nova Scotia native was 23.
Tanya Cowbrough said on Facebook that her daughter had been killed.
“My beautiful daughter has been in a military accident and passed away,” she wrote. “Nothing can replace her.”
Shane Cowbrough said he lost his oldest daughter.
“I am broken and gutted,” he posted. “There are no words. You made me forever proud. I will love you always, and miss you in every moment.”
The accident hit Nova Scotia hard as the helicopter was based in the province, which is already dealing with the killings of 22 people by a gunman who went on a rampage two weeks ago. “Today, Nova Scotians are mourning another loss,” Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said.
Canadian Defense Minister Harjat Sajjan said the flight data recorder had been recovered but the cause of the accident was still under investigation. Multiple NATO countries were helping in the search operation in the Ionian Sea, hoping to find the five missing.
Vance said the voice and data recorders floated away from the wreckage. A beacon allowed searchers to find it.
He said Canada’s Cyclone helicopter fleet had been put on an “operational pause.”
“We have to rule out that there is a fleet-wide problem,” he said.
The Royal Canadian Air Force’s Cyclone helicopter carries a crew of four, including two pilots, a tactical operator and a sensor operator with space for several passengers. They are primarily based on naval vessels and used for hunting submarines, surveillance and search and rescue.
The Canadian military started using the aircraft on missions in late 2018, after more than a decade of developmental challenges, delays and cost overruns. The crash is also likely to raise questions about the aircraft.
The military was originally supposed to have received 28 Cyclones from manufacturer Sikorsky starting in November 2008. But the first helicopter wasn’t delivered until June 2015 and even then was missing vital equipment and software and only suitable for training.
Lockheed Martin, which owns Sikorsky, said in a statement that Sikorsky was sending an investigator to assist at the request of the Canadian military.
“I express my grief over the crash of the Canadian helicopter in the Ionian Sea last night,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Thursday, speaking in parliament.