The flight data recorder of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) CH-148 Cyclone helicopter that crashed during a NATO operation in the Mediterranean Sea on April 29, has been recovered.
Five missing crew members aboard the helicopter at the time of the incident are now presumed dead.
“At this time, one member, Sub-Lieutenant Abbigail Cowbrough, a Marine Systems Engineering Officer, originally from Toronto, Ontario, has been confirmed deceased. The missing five members who were aboard the aircraft are now officially considered missing and presumed deceased. Today, the search and rescue efforts of Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2) officially transitioned into search and recovery efforts, following Wednesday’s tragic accident,” Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) said in a statement.
The cause of the accident is not known. “We have recovered the flight data recorder from the helicopter,” Harjit Sajjan, Defence Minister of Canada, said.
The helicopter was deployed with HMCS Fredericton in the Mediterranean Sea as part of Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 under Operation REASSURANCE. At the time of the accident, the Canadian ship was conducting collaborative training with Italian and Turkish ships. The Cyclone was conducting concurrent flight operations.
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.
“Troubled Cyclone Fleet”
An “operational pause” on the Cyclone helicopter fleet has been imposed by the Canadian military, until it rules out any fleet-wide problems. The Cyclone is a military variant of the Sikorsky S-92.
“I don’t have any concerns about the helicopter. I don’t have any lack of confidence in the fleet,” Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jon Vance was quoted as saying by Ottawa Citizen.
The Canadian government had considered shelving the $5.7 billion CH-148 helicopter procurement project intended to replace the ageing CH-124 Sea King choppers, in September 2013. According to Ottawa Citizen, the reason behind it was Sikorsky’s failure to deliver what was ordered. The helicopters were eventually accepted by the RCAF but with reportedly less capabilities than originally contracted for. Deliveries began in 2015 after repeated delays. Three years later, the first Cyclone was sent on its first international deployment.
In 2009, concerns were raised after an S-92 being used in the oil industry crashed off the east coast, killing 17 on board.
Last year, a CH-148 experienced hard landing on board a supply ship operating west of Hawaii. There were no serious injuries during the incident but the helicopter was damaged as it slammed into the deck of the ship.
“The incident was caused by an unusual gust of wind,” Vance said.
In a report on the status of the Cyclone program, released in October 2010, then Auditor General Sheila Fraser pointed out that the CH-148s lacked capabilities in areas of mission system software and in the exchange of tactical data between ships and the helicopter.