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The Canadian military has wrapped up its efforts to recover the wreckage of a Cyclone helicopter that crashed off the coast of Greece as well as the remains of its crew, the Canadian Forces announced Wednesday.
The Cyclone helicopter crashed April 29 during a training mission. It was returning to the Canadian frigate, HMCS Fredericton, when the crash occurred. Six Canadian Forces personnel on board were killed.
The body of Sub-Lt. Abbigail Cowbrough was recovered shortly after the crash. In addition, partial remains discovered in the aftermath of the incident were identified on May 9 as being those of one of the Cyclone’s pilots, Capt. Brenden Ian MacDonald.
Canadian and U.S. military personnel were involved in the recovery efforts. “After eight days over the crash site we achieved what we set out to accomplish – we located the helicopter, we have recovered some remains of our fallen and we have retrieved multiple pieces of the aircraft that will assist in the ongoing flight safety investigation,” Rear Adm. Craig Baines, commander of Maritime Forces Atlantic, said in a statement. “While we were able to recover remains of some of our fallen, it is important to note that we have not identified these remains and it is unknown at this time whether we have found everyone.”
The remains will be sent to Toronto for identification. Once this is complete, the identities of the remains will be released to the families and then the public, Baines added.
The recovery team left May 25 from Souda Bay, Greece, on the EDT Hercules, which is an offshore multi-purpose support vessel that served as the platform for the deep-sea recovery.
The EDT Hercules arrived at the search site approximately 220 nautical miles east of Catania, Sicily the next day. After about two hours of preparation, the team was able to get the remotely operated vehicle in the water and quickly begin the search for Cyclone helicopter, known as Stalker 22.
The recovery team used a United States Navy remotely operated vehicle Remora. That ROV was selected as it has the ability to operate to a depth of 6,000 metres, twice the expected depth of where the Canadian Forces had anticipated the CH-148 Cyclone helicopter to be located on the ocean floor.
For the most part, the weather conditions and the sea state over the past week allowed the team to operate the ROV and locate the debris field in very short order, Baines said. It took the Remora approximately three hours to reach the ocean floor and, within eight minutes, the sonar and cameras on the ROV revealed a large portion of the helicopter fuselage, which became the centre point for the rest of the search, he added.
“Given that we had very accurate data on where the helicopter entered the water, we did not have to rely on the underwater locator beacon, and would have only rigged the detection system to the ROV if we had difficulty locating the helicopter,” Baines noted.
At more than 3,143 meters deep, with a debris field that spanned approximately 260 metres by 230 metres, aircraft components were found in a number of clustered groups and many smaller pieces were found scattered individually across the sea floor, he stated.
“Unfortunately, no portion of the main cabin was left intact following the crash, including the external cockpit structure,” Baines said.
The largest piece at the wreckage site was the rear deck/ramp area of the helicopter and the next largest intact piece was the tail pylon and tail rotor blades.
The recovery team onboard EDT Hercules is now en-route to Augusta Bay, Italy. The ship is expected to arrive early Thursday morning. After that the remains will be prepared for transport back to Canada. That is expected to happen as early as the weekend.
“In closing, and speaking more directly to the families of our fallen, it is our hope that this operation provides some closure to you,” Baines said. “Please know that the Canadian military family grieves with you.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020