Lt. Melissa Kia, speaking on the behalf of the next of kin of Sub-Lt. Matthew Pyke, reads a statement at the navy dockyard in Halifax on Tuesday, May 5, 2020. Pyke perished in the crash of a CH-148 Cyclone helicopter. The helicopter was flying a mission from the Halifax-class frigate HMCS Fredericton and crashed off the coast of Greece while taking part in an exercise as part of a NATO operation in the Mediterranean. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Lt. Melissa Kia, speaking on the behalf of the next of kin of Sub-Lt. Matthew Pyke, reads a statement at the navy dockyard in Halifax on Tuesday, May 5, 2020. Pyke perished in the crash of a CH-148 Cyclone helicopter. The helicopter was flying a mission from the Halifax-class frigate HMCS Fredericton and crashed off the coast of Greece while taking part in an exercise as part of a NATO operation in the Mediterranean. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

PM deflects questions about military’s delayed confirmation of helicopter crash

Cyclone helicopter carrying six Armed Forces members crashed into the Ionian Sea off the coast of Greece on April 29.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau deflected questions Tuesday about why it took more than 12 hours for the Canadian Armed Forces to confirm a military helicopter had crashed and when he found out that horrified crew members on board a Halifax-class frigate had watched it go down.

“The military has very important protocols in place when there is a tragic incident like this around informing the next of kin, talking to the families as quickly as possible before sharing information with the general public,” Trudeau said. “All those protocols were followed.”

The Cyclone helicopter carrying six Armed Forces members crashed into the Ionian Sea off the coast of Greece on April 29. Defence officials have said it was returning to HMCS Fredericton at the end of a NATO training mission.

The remains of Sub-Lt. Abbigail Cowbrough were subsequently recovered while the other five service members on board are missing presumed dead. (The remains of one other person have been recovered but not yet identified.)

The military initially reported that the helicopter was missing after HMCS Fredericton lost contact with it. It did not confirm a crash until the next day, after the NATO military alliance had already reported the same thing.

Even then, the government and military continued to suggest that the first sign of trouble came when Fredericton lost contact with the Cyclone, suggesting it was operating at a distance from the warship. They also made no mention of service members on the warship having seen it crash.

“Around 6:52 P.M., the ship lost contact with the helicopter crew and a few minutes later flares were seen in the water,” chief of the defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance said during a briefing to Canadians on April 30 attended by Trudeau and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.

Vance reported during the same briefing that the next of kin of all six members had already been notified about the crash.

The Department of National Defence confirmed Monday that multiple witnesses on board Fredericton watched as the helicopter went down.

The military has repeatedly declined to say how close the Cyclone was to Fredericton when it crashed into the sea. Rear-Admiral Craig Baines, the commander of the navy’s maritime command, did estimate on Friday that the crash was “within two miles” of the frigate.

A flight-investigation team that includes a representative from Sikorsky Aircraft, which builds the Cyclone, is currently investigating the circumstances around the crash. The helicopter’s flight-data and cockpit-voice recorders were recovered and are back in Canada for analysis.

The Cyclone was deployed with the Halifax-based HMCS Fredericton to Europe in January, where they had been attached to a NATO maritime force tasked with patrolling the Mediterranean and Black seas.

Cyclones are primarily based on naval vessels and used for hunting submarines, surveillance and search and rescue. They entered operational service — replacing the military’s ancient Sea Kings — in 2018 after more than a decade of developmental challenges.

The military is preparing to hold a special ramp ceremony Wednesday at Canadian Forces Base Trenton to repatriate Cowbrough’s remains and honour all six who died in the crash. The family and friends of the service members are expected to be in attendance.

The family of one those, Sub-Lt. Matthew Pyke, remembered the 34-year-old sailor on Tuesday as a patriotic Canadian who died serving others. Pyke was also described in a statement from his family as a true Maritimer who wore his heart on his sleeve.

“He fell in the line of duty for his nation, a finality that deeply aligned with his ethos of honour and helping others before self,” Pyke’s family said in a statement delivered in Halifax by a spokeswoman for the Navy as they continued to grieve his loss.

Pyke is one of five missing presumed dead. The others are Capt. Brenden Ian MacDonald of New Glasgow, N.S.; Capt. Kevin Hagen of Nanaimo, B.C.; Capt. Maxime Miron-Morin of Trois-Rivieres, Que.; and Master Cpl. Matthew Cousins of Guelph, Ont.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Fernie saw 20 new positive cases between Jan. 10 and Jan. 16 according to the BCCDC. (Image courtesy of BCCDC)
BCCDC reports 20 new COVID cases in Fernie health area last week

20 new cases were recorded between Jan. 10 and Jan. 16

City of Fernie city hall. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)
Speed boards proposed for Fernie

Mayor Qualizza floated the idea to councillors at the most recent Committee of the Whole

Environmental groups are calling for a federal impact assessment for a proposed coal mine expansion in the Elk Valley. Phil McLachlan photo.
Castle Project now known as FRO-X

Teck said the previous name was causing confusion

The Fernie Chamber of Commerce hosted this year's virtual 2020 Business Awards. (File Photo)
If there’s a risk, IH will take the lead: Fernie Chamber

Rumours about businesses and COVID numbers are doing damage to sectors already hurting according to Brad Parsell

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

Interior Health has declared the Cariboo Chilcotin a community cluster. (Angie Mindus photo)
Interior Health declares Cariboo Chilcotin region a COVID-19 cluster, 215 cases since Jan. 1

Most cases are related to transmission at social events and gatherings in Williams Lake

A woman writes a message on a memorial mural wall by street artist James “Smokey Devil” Hardy during a memorial to remember victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

Vernon's Noric House long-term care facility is dealing with an influenza outbreak amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (File photo)
Two more deaths at Vernon care home

Noric House case numbers remain steady, but death toll rises

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Eighteen-year-old Aidan Webber died in a marine accident in 2019. He was a Canadian Junior BMX champion from Nanaimo. (Submitted)
Inadequate safety training a factor in teen BMX star’s workplace death in 2019

Aidan Webber was crushed by a barge at a fish farm near Port Hardy

Southern resident killer whales in B.C. waters. Research shows the population’s females are more negatively influenced by vessel traffic than males. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Female orcas less likely to feed in presence of vessel traffic: study

Research the southern resident population raises concerns over reproduction capacity

(Black Press Media files)
Transport Canada not budging on enclosed deck rules, despite calls from BC Ferries union

There have been at least 23 cases of the U.K. variant detected in Canada, four of which are in B.C.

Throughout December, RCMP conducted CounterAttack road checks as police worked to keep roads free of impaired drivers. (BLACK PRESS file photo)
‘You can’t make this stuff up’: Stories from the B.C. CounterAttack campaign

Amusing, yes, but a reminder impaired driving affects ability to drive and to make good decisions

Most Read