One Canadian dead, five missing after navy helicopter crash

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by Michel Comte / Hélène Colliopoulou

A Canadian sailor’s body has been found amid debris from a navy helicopter that crashed during a NATO operation in the sea between Greece and Italy, officials said Thursday.

The search continues for five other crew members from the Cyclone Sikorsky CH-148 helicopter, which was returning to the warship HMCS Fredericton after a training mission when contact was lost on Wednesday evening.

“Yesterday, a Royal Canadian Navy helicopter on a NATO mission, carrying six members of the Canadian Armed Forces, went down with all hands in the Ionian Sea off the coast of Greece,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in Ottawa.

“One casualty was recovered and five are missing,” he told a press conference.

A Greek military officer told AFP the debris had been found “in Italy’s zone of control and intervention”, specifying the wreckage came from the Canadian helicopter.

The Canadian frigate and submarine-hunting helicopter were 100 days into a NATO mission, aimed at deterring Russia.

More than 900 Canadian soldiers are deployed — mostly in eastern Europe — as part of Operation Reassurance. It is Canada’s largest current international military deployment.

Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said the cause of the crash was “unknown”, but that an automatic beacon was located in the waters moments after contact was lost.

The helicopter’s cockpit voice and flight data recorders have since been recovered.

At the time of the accident, the crew and allied ships were “not conducting surveillance or targeted operations on any particular vessel, adversary or otherwise”, said Canada’s military chief of staff, General Jon Vance.

“We can’t rule anything out but I’m quite certain from a military situation, (the helicopter crash) was not a function of contact or shootdown,” he said.

Canada’s top general said a “very sizeable debris field” had been found and that a search and rescue operation continues in the 3,000-metre (9,800-feet) deep sea.

“This search will continue through the evening and into tomorrow” and cover “a much larger area, given the effects of wind and current”, said Canadian Rear-Admiral Craig Baines.

“They will continue to search (as long as) they believe there’s still an opportunity to find survivors.” (AFP)

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