TORONTO — Six members of the Canadian Armed Forces were on board the military helicopter that crashed during a NATO training exercise off the coast of Greece, the prime minister has confirmed.
During his daily briefing in Ottawa Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that one body has been recovered and five others are missing.
“All of them are heroes. Each of them will leave a void that cannot be filled,” he said. “On behalf of all Canadians, I want to offer my deepest support to their families, their friends, their shipmates, and their fellow CAF members.”
Trudeau said the Royal Canadian Navy helicopter was flying from Halifax-based Canadian naval frigate HMCS Fredericton as part of NATO’s Operation Reassurance. The CH-148 Cyclone lost contact during an allied exercise over the Ionian Sea on Wednesday.
“This is another very hard day for Halifax, for Nova Scotia, and for our Armed Forces families,” he said.
The prime minister said NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg offered his condolences when they spoke earlier on Thursday.
In a brief statement released Thursday, NATO said that aircraft from Canada, Italy, and Turkey were carrying out search operations for the helicopter with additional support from Greece and the U.S.
According to the Canadian Armed Forces website, HMCS Fredericton left Halifax for Europe in January as part of Operation Reassurance, which aims to “reinforce NATO’s collective defence” and show solidarity with allied countries in Central and Eastern Europe.
NATO said HMCS Fredericton had recently sailed from Souda, Greece to continue with their mission of “maritime situational awareness” in the Mediterranean. The ship had been a unit of Standing NATO Maritime Group Two (SNMG2) and had performed several exercises with units of the Turkish Navy and the Hellenic Navy and Air Force this past week, the statement said.
Prior to that, the ship visited Italy in March and was supposed to travel to Greece and the Black Sea as one of eight warships in SNMG2.
Earlier on Thursday, the first victim of the helicopter crash was identified by her parents as Sub-Lt. Abbigail Cowbrough.
In a Facebook post, Shane Cowbrough confirmed that his daughter Abbigail was among the victims.
“I am broken and gutted,” he wrote. “There are no words. You made me forever proud. I will love you always, and miss you in every moment. You are the bright light in my life taken far too soon.”
Tanya Cowbrough, Abbigail’s mother, also shared the devastating news on her Facebook page.
“My beautiful daughter has been in a military accident and passed away. She will no longer pipe her songs to all those that loves her,” she wrote. “The very beating no fluttering of my heart has stoped. Nothing can replace her.”
The Regal Heights Baptist Church in Dartmouth, N.S. posted about Abbigail Cowbrough’s death in a Facebook post early Thursday morning.
“Our church family has lost a wonderful woman,” the post read. “Our prayers are with her family, and all those who have lost a loved one in this tragic accident.”
The church also shared two photos of Abbigail Cowbrough. In one, she can be seen playing the bagpipes during a Remembrance Day ceremony in Dartmouth last year. The other photo shows Abbigail Cowbrough aboard the HMCS Fredericton, which she sent to the church to show them where she was spending quarantine during the pandemic.
On Thursday, Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, expressed his condolences about the incident.
“I express my grief over the crash of the Canadian helicopter in the Ionian Sea last night,” he told parliament on Thursday.
Mitsotakis added that he intended to call Prime Minister Justin Trudeau later in the day to extend his sympathies.
With files from CTV News’ Michel Boyer, CTVNews.ca’s Ben Cousins and The Canadian Press
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