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Canadian helicopter crash being investigated

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Updated: 10 May 2020
Statement from DND (10 May 2020)

Partial remains of second crew member identified after CH-148 Cyclone accident

On May 9, 2020, the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario identified the partial remains of Captain Brenden Ian MacDonald, one of the six military members killed in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) helicopter accident on April 29.

During the recovery efforts, partial remains were discovered and have now, through DNA testing, positively been identified. Captain Brenden Ian MacDonald, a Pilot, was originally from New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. Captain MacDonald’s family, and the families of the other crew members lost in the accident, have all been notified of this identification.

Sub-Lieutenant Abbigail Cowbrough was previously identified, and four other members are presumed dead, after the crash of a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) CH-148 Cyclone helicopter.

Still missing and presumed dead are:

  • Captain Kevin Hagen, Pilot, originally from Nanaimo, British Columbia
  • Captain Maxime Miron-Morin, Air Combat Systems Officer, originally from Trois-Rivières, Québec
  • Sub-Lieutenant Matthew Pyke, Naval Warfare Officer, originally from Truro, Nova Scotia
  • Master Corporal Matthew Cousins, Airborne Electronic Sensor Operator, originally from Guelph, Ontario

The CAF continues to provide members and their families with as much support as possible, including a wide range of resources to help them through this difficult time. 

A RCAF Flight Safety team continues to investigate the circumstances of the accident while recovery efforts and search for additional remains will continue. 

The CAF community expresses its deepest condolences to the families, friends, and colleagues of all our six members. We hope that they can find some comfort in knowing that we are all grieving with them.

Statement from DND (4 May 2020)

A repatriation ceremony for the six Canadian Armed Forces members killed at sea in a helicopter crash, will take place on Wednesday, 6 May 2020, at 8 Wing/CFB Trenton. The ceremony will also be live-streamed on the CAF Facebook page to allow the public to watch.

Following the ceremony, the motorcade will proceed to Toronto, via the Highway of Heroes.​

Statement from DND (1 May 2020)

According to a statement released by DND, “Additional remains have been discovered during the search, but cannot be identified at this time. The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) will be doing everything possible over the next several days to confirm known details with the families.” 

Search efforts have now transitioned to a recovery mission.

“NATO Allies will be continuing recovery efforts at the scene as HMCS Fredericton departs for port in Italy. The ship is expected to arrive the morning of May 2, 2020, local time in Italy.

“A RCAF Flight Safety team will depart Canada today to investigate the circumstances of the accident. They will begin their work immediately upon arrival.”


Statement from NATO (1 May 2020)

Commander of NATO Maritime Command, Vice Admiral Keith Blount, has expressed his condolences. “The end of this week has brought with it the tragic news of a helicopter crash from one of our NATO warships in the eastern Mediterranean. As one NATO family our sympathy, and prayers are extended to all involved, but particularly the family and friends of those who were on board the helicopter and the entire ship’s company of the Fredericton. Times like this remind us of the perils of operating at sea and the courage and commitment of those who do. With the equally resolute support of our families and loved ones we navigate these challenges, but it is never easy,” said the Vice Admiral.

The statement notes that HMCS Fredericton is a unit of Standing NATO Maritime Group Two (SNMG2), along with ITS Virginio Fasan (Italy), and TCG Salihreis (Turkey).

“A search continues with SNMG2 ships on scene (Flagship ITS Virginio Fasan, TCG Salihreis and HMCS Fredericton), two organic helicopters (One SH-70 and Two SH-90), rigid-hulled inflatable boats conducting the search for remaining five missing. ITS Carabinieri joined the SNMG2 units during the search operations. Two P-72 aircraft from the Italian Air Force 72th Squadron based in Sigonella Air Base (Sicily), as well as one SH-90 from the Italian Navy FREMM ITS Carabiniere, one SH-70 from the Hellenic Fleet and one US Navy P-8 Poseidon also contributed to the search, as well as one C130 from Hellenic Fleet on standby 15 minutes.” The statement confirms “The incident is currently under investigation.”

(30 April 2020)

At a press conference on 30 April 2020, Chief of the Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance confirmed that the body of Sub-Lieutenant Abbigail Cowbrough has been recovered but five other CAF members are still missing after the Cyclone helicopter they were in went down just off the coast of Greece.

SLt Cowbrough, a Marine Systems Engineering Officer on board HMCS Fredericton, had been on the Cyclone, call sign "Stalker", when it went down during exercises related to Canada's participation in the ongoing Operation Reassurance missions in Central and Eastern Europe.

The identities of all six personnel aboard a Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone helicopter, which crashed off the Greek coast during a routine flight from the frigate HMCS Fredericton on 29 April, have now been released by the Department of National Defence.

Sub-Lieutenant Abbigail Cowbrough, a Maritime Systems Engineering Officer, originally from Toronto, Ontario.

HMCS Fredericton and NATO allies continue to search for the other five members of the helicopter's crew. Debris from the helicopter is spread over a wide area, making the search more difficult. Additionally, the approximate 3,000 m depth of the waters in that area will make recovery of the aircraft a very difficult task if Canada attempts to recover it. It's conceivable that some of the missing men were trapped inside the aircraft when it went down.

Captain Brenden Ian MacDonald, Pilot, originally from New Glasgow, Nova Scotia.


Captain Kevin Hagen, Pilot, originally from Nanaimo, British Columbia.


Captain Maxime Miron-Morin, Air Combat Systems Officer, originally from Trois-Rivières, Québec.


Sub-Lieutenant Matthew Pyke, Naval Warfare Officer, originally from Truro, Nova Scotia.


Master Corporal Matthew Cousins, Airborne Electronic Sensor Operator, originally from Guelph, Ontario.

The relatively new helicopter was deployed in the Mediterranean Sea with HMCS Fredericton as part of Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 under Operation Reassurance. At the time of the accident, the Canadian ship was conducting concurrent flight operations and collaborative training with Italian and Turkish ships.

The Cyclones are the RCAF’s newest aircraft, a replacement for the Sikorsky CH-124 Sea Kings which remained in service for some 50 years as the backbone of Canada’s anti-submarine warfare capability. They are a heavily modified variant of the Sikorsky S-92, a civilian helicopter widely used in servicing offshore oil platforms

LGen Al Meinzinger and Vice-Adm Art McDonald, respectively the commanders of the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Royal Canadian Navy, issued a joint statement in which they offered “our deepest condolences, love and support to the families, friends and loved ones of all those affected by this devastating loss.”

Also thanking Canada’s NATO partners for their search and rescue effort, they said the loss is “a difficult reminder of […] how dangerous even routine operations at sea and in the air can be. In the face of these realities, the sailors and aviators aboard Navy frigates operate as one team – one family – a family that today mourns together.”

Last week, SLt Cowbrough stood on deck of the Halifax-class frigate HMCS Fredericton and piped Amazing Grace to honour those who died in the mass shooting in Nova Scotia. Listen to YouTube video of SLt Cowbrough piping Amazing Grace to grieve with Nova Scotia after the horrific mass murder that took place there on April 18 and 19th. 

This 2015 photo shows a Cyclone 802 conducting Shipborne Helicopter Operating Limits trials with HMCS Halifax. (Photo: Lt(N) Davidson-Arnott)

General Vance disclosed that the helicopter took off from HMCS Fredericton at 4:35 pm to conduct inter-ship serials and was returning to the vessel at the time of distress. The ship lost contact with the aircraft at 6:52 pm, and flares were seen shortly after that. Search and rescue resources were immediately launched, but only SLt Cowbrough has been found so far. 

Gen Vance, solemnly acknowledging that "no words can ease the pain" of the families left behind, confirmed that the families of those on board "Stalker" have been informed, and are waiting further word on the fate of their loved ones. 

The flight data and cockpit voice recorders have been recovered and will be sent to the National Research Council to aid in investigation of the accident. As per standard practice, investigation teams from both the RCAF and the Transportation Safety Board will soon arrive on scene to gather information and assess the possible causes leading to this terrible incident. Gen Vance noted that only confirmed facts can be released before the investigations are completed.

In the meantime, Canada's fleet of CH-148 Cyclones has been placed on an operational pause. "We have put the entire fleet, in Canada and overseas, on an operational pause," Vance told reporters. He went on to clarify: "It's not a 'grounding', it's an operational pause until the Commander of the RCAF and the flight safety team can determine next steps."

The official purpose of the operational pause is to allow the time necessary to rule out the possibility of a fleet-wide problem, but it also creates a healing space during which CAF members can grieve this tragic loss within their community as we all await more details.

In this January 2020 photo, Corporal Chris Rodusek (facing) guides a CH-148 Cyclone helicopter into position aboard HMCS Fredericton during Operation Reassurance(Photo: Cpl Simon Arcand)

HMCS Fredericton set sail on 20 Jan 2020 for a 6 month deployment on Operation Reassurance which is a NATO-led assurance and deterrence mission that has been ongoing since April 2014. The CH-148 Cyclone was participating in a NATO exercise as part of Operation Reassurance. A wide range of military activities are regularly undertaken by the CAF to support NATO assurance and deterrence measures. These activities include the provision of military capabilities for training, exercises, demonstrations and assigned NATO tasks and demonstrate Canada’s commitment to promote security and stability in Central and Eastern Europe.

“This tragedy hits home especially hard, as I know it does for so many members of our wider Defence Team,” said Defence Minister Harjit S. Sajjan. “We join all Canadians to extend our deepest sympathies to the entire crew of the HMCS Fredericton, who served shoulder to shoulder with their lost teammate and we support those impacted during this truly difficult time.”

Jody Thomas, Deputy Minister of National Defence, expressed how “our thoughts and prayers” are with the families, friends, and shipmates during this difficult time. “There are no words to describe the pain that you feel right now, nor are there any words that can ease it. Please know that the entire Canadian Armed Forces is with you.”


All of us at FrontLine Magazine offer our heartfelt condolences,
Chris MacLean​ and Ken Pole