Five Presumed Dead in Canadian Navy Helicopter Crash

Image courtesy Royal Canadian Navy / HMCS Fredericton

Published May 2, 2020 12:03 AM by The Maritime Executive

After a two-day search, the Canadian armed forces have called off efforts to find five missing crewmembers from a military helicopter that went down off the coast of Greece. The remains of one individual - Sub-Lieutenant Abbigail Cowbrough, an officer from the frigate HMCS Fredericton - has been recovered. 

Additional remains were found at the crash site but could not be identified at this time, according to Canada's Department of National Defense. The remains will be returned to Canada for further efforts at identification.

"While searches on the sea are never easy, these units have completely saturated the area for the duration of the search over a known crash location. So we are certain that if there were survivors, we would have found them within the past 48 hours," said Rear Adm. Craig Baines, commander of the Royal Canadian Navy's Maritime Forces Atlantic.

Debris from the crashed helicopter has been recovered, including airframe components and the aircraft's flight data recorders. The cause of the accident is not yet known; the wreckage sits at a depth of about 9,000 feet, complicating further salvage and analysis efforts. 

The aircraft was a recently-acquired Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone helicopter, which the Royal Canadian Navy first deployed in 2018 to replace the aging Sea King. The Cyclone is a heavily-modified derivative of the Sikorsky S-92, a civilian helicopter design that is in common use in the offshore oil and gas industry. The S-92 has received previous scrutiny in connection with a small number of mechanical casualties; a 2018 incident involving a hard landing on an oil platform prompted a fleet-wide recall for tail rotor inspections. The military-grade variant adopted by the Canadian Navy differs from the S-92 base model. 

The Cyclone's development was plagued with technical delays and cost overruns, and the first unit was delivered seven years late. In 2012, then-defense minister Peter Mackay described it as "the worst procurement in the history of Canada" due to development program challenges. 

HMCS Fredericton deployed to the Mediterranean in January to join Operation Reassurance, a series of NATO maneuvers and exercises intended to demonstrate deterrence measures and strengthen collective defense.