Five missing crew members of a Canadian navy helicopter that crashed during a Nato operation this week into the Mediterranean Sea are presumed dead.
A search and rescue mission that began on Wednesday when the aircraft with six crew on board went missing has been turned into a recovery effort, the Canadian defence ministry said in a statement on Friday.
“Today, with the call to end the search and rescue mission, I join all Canadians in mourning the loss of six Canadian armed forces members,” prime minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement.
So far, the body of one crew member from the Cyclone Sikorsky CH-148 helicopter, Sub-Lieutenant Abbigail Cowbrough, has been recovered and identified.
“The missing five members who were aboard the aircraft are now officially considered missing and presumed deceased,” the defence ministry’s statement said.
“Additional remains have been discovered during the search, but cannot be identified at this time.”
The 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 accident occurred on Wednesday evening, the military said. The ship lost contact with the aircrew and flares were spotted from the water minutes later. Officials said flares would have been fired automatically when the aircraft hit the water.
Nato ships and aircraft took part in the search and rescue mission in the Ionian sea off Greece’s east coast, supported by local forces, Italy, Turkey and the United States.
“These units have completely saturated the area,” Canadian Rear Admiral Craig Baines said in a statement.
“We are certain that if there were survivors, we would have found them within the past 48 hours,” he added.
The Canadian ministry said that “NATO allies will be continuing recovery efforts at the scene as HMCS Fredericton departs for port in Italy,” where it will arrive on Saturday.
Canadian defence minister Harjit Sajjan said the helicopter’s cockpit voice and flight data recorders had been recovered and would be analysed in Canada.
The cause of the crash is so far “unknown,” he said.
The Canadian frigate and submarine-hunting helicopter had been deployed since 20 January on NATO’s Operation Reassurance, aimed at deterring Russian intervention in eastern and central Europe.
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 on 18 April.