Canadian frigate HMCS Fredericton back in action after Cyclone crash

OTTAWA — The Halifax-class frigate HMCS Fredericton is back in action less than two weeks after its Cyclone helicopter crashed off the coast of Greece, killing six Canadian Armed Forces members.

The warship resumed its six-month deployment with a NATO task force in the Mediterranean Sea on Sunday, Defence Department spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier said, though the remaining members of the Cyclone detachment have returned to Canada.

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Those members include a second aircrew as well as technicians and various logistical and support personnel for the helicopter.

The Cyclone went down into the Ionian Sea on April 29 in full view of some Fredericton crew members while returning from a NATO training mission.

The Defence Department subsequently deployed social workers and military chaplains to Italy, where the Fredericton docked after the crash, to provide mental health support to the crew.

The remains of Sub-Lt. Abbigail Cowbrough and partial remains of Capt. Brenden Ian MacDonald have been recovered and identified. Capt. Kevin Hagen, Capt. Maxime Miron-Morin, Sub-Lt. Matthew Pyke, and Master Cpl. Matthew Cousins are missing and presumed dead.

A flight-investigation team is studying the causes of the crash and is expected to present preliminary findings in the coming weeks, though a full report is not expected until next year.

The crash represents the largest loss of life in one day for the Canadian Armed Forces since six Canadian soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan on Easter Sunday 2007.

The Cyclone's flight-data and voice recorders have been recovered and are being analyzed by the National Research Council, but most of the helicopter wreckage remains under 3,000 metres of water.

The Defence Department is looking at options for recovering the wreckage, Le Bouthillier said, though no decision has been made. That wreckage could prove instrumental in determining the cause of the crash.

Officials have also not decided whether to send another helicopter to replace the crashed Cyclone. Its primary tasks are surveillance, search and rescue and finding enemy submarines.

"Our leadership and planning teams have been looking at what can be done to enable their success," Le Bouthillier said.

"As such, contingency planning has been under way to look at different options. However, based on the ongoing operational pause of the CH-148 (Cyclone) fleet, a final decision has not yet been made."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 12, 2020.

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