Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia naval officer dead after military helicopter crash in Mediterranean Sea

A young Nova Scotia naval officer, Sub.-Lt. Abbigail Cowbrough, is the first known casualty after a Canadian military helicopter crashed in the Mediterranean Sea on Wednesday.

5 people remain missing following Wednesday's crash, the prime minister said Thursday

Sub.-Lt. Abbigail Cowbrough, seen in her Facebook profile photo, has been identified as one of the victims of a Canadian military helicopter crash in the Mediterranean Sea on Wednesday. (Facebook)

A young Nova Scotia naval officer, Sub.-Lt. Abbigail Cowbrough, is the first known casualty after a Canadian military helicopter crashed in the Mediterranean Sea on Wednesday.

Cowbrough, 23, was one of six Canadians aboard a CH-148 Cyclone helicopter when it went down Wednesday into international waters between Greece and Italy. The other five people are still missing.

Thursday afternoon, the Canadian Armed Forces released the names of the five missing members:

  • Capt. Brenden Ian MacDonald, pilot, originally from New Glasgow, N.S.
  • Capt. Kevin Hagen, pilot, originally from Nanaimo, B.C.
  • Capt. Maxime Miron-Morin, air combat systems officer, originally from Trois-Rivières, Quebec.
  • Sub-Lt. Matthew Pyke, naval warfare officer, originally from Truro, N.S.
  • Master Cpl. Matthew Cousins, airborne electronic sensor operator, originally from Guelph, Ontario.
      1 of 0

      Officials later provided an update on the status of the search.

      "Right now search conditions are good, but we are now searching a much larger area given the effects of wind and currents," Rear Admiral Craig Baines, maritime component commander, said during a news conference. 

      He said the search has been going for more than 24 hours with help from Canada's allies.

      Baines said the Royal Canadian Air Force's flight safety team will leave Canada soon to investigate the circumstances of the crash. He said the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder have been recovered.

      "This is certainly one of the most tragic events I recall. It is an absolutely horrific event to have happen," Baines said.

      Baines said the team on the helicopter had been doing training operations and was heading back to the ship when it crashed. 

      Baines said HMCS Fredericton will continue its mission overseas. He said the ship's company is doing well, but it's a "very traumatic situation as they continue to search for survivors."

      "Events like this remind us of the danger that comes with our call to service, and we are forever changed by them," said Col. James Hawthorne, 12 Wing Shearwater wing commander.

       

      The Royal Military College of Canada said on Facebook that four of the people involved the Cyclone crash were ex-cadets.

      Cowbrough was part of the class of 2018 and specialized in computer science.

      MacDonald was part of the class of 2007 and specialized in general science and chemistry.

      Hagen was part of the class of 2011 and specialized in aeronautical engineering. 

      Miron-Morin also specialized in aeronautical engineering, and graduated in 2013.

      "They stood on our parade square and commissioned as officers in the Canadian Armed Forces. They marched with their classmates through the Memorial Arch, swords held high," the college said in a statement.

      "Now, another name will join the names of our fallen who are immortalized on the Arch — forever honoured with those who gave their lives while serving Canada. Our thoughts are with Abbigail's family this day, as well as with the families of those who remain missing. We stand with you."

      'Living her dream'

      Cowbrough graduated from the Royal Military College of Canada in 2018 and was serving as a marine systems engineering officer aboard HMCS Fredericton. The vessel sailed from its home port of Halifax in January for a six-month deployment in the Mediterranean as part of a NATO operation.

      Although Cowbrough was not a member of the flight crew for the helicopter, Brenda Shewchuk said she wasn't surprised her granddaughter was on board. Shewchuk said Cowbrough was always clamouring for the next adventure.

      Cowbrough, a marine systems engineering officer, is the first known casualty of the crash. (Canadian Armed Forces)

      "It's no wonder she was on the helicopter because if anybody was going to be, she would be. She was living her dream," Shewchuk told CBC News Network.

      Shane Cowbrough, the young navy officer's stepfather, expressed his grief on social media early Thursday.

      "I am broken and gutted. Today, I lost my oldest daughter, Abbigail Cowbrough, in the crash involving the Cyclone from HMCS Fredericton. 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," he said in a Facebook post.

      WATCH | Justin Trudeau pays tribute to military members in helicopter crash:

      Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirms that a military helicopter on a NATO mission that crashed off the coast of Greece was carrying six members of the Canadian Armed Forces. 1:55

      Shewchuk said Cowbrough's death was "a horrible loss for the family," which is split between Nova Scotia and Ontario, where Cowbrough spent her childhood. 

      "She was very young, and we all said that she had the beginnings of a very interesting life ahead of her because she was just completely determined to do whatever she put her mind to do," Shewchuk said.

      At a news conference on Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered his condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Cowbrough and paid tribute to her and the five military members who are still missing.

      The cause of the helicopter crash is unknown, and Trudeau acknowledged that "there will be many questions about how this tragedy occurred.

      "And I can assure you, we will get answers in due course."

      WATCH | General Vance gives details about the Cyclone helicopter crash off Greece:

      Chief of the Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance spoke to reporters on Parliament Hill on Thursday. 3:56

      Aircraft from Canada, Italy and Turkey are searching for the complete wreckage of the helicopter and the missing individuals. The voice and flight data recorders have been retrieved, Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance said at the news conference.

      Vance said the rest of Canada's Cyclone helicopter fleet has been put on "operational pause," and flight safety teams would investigate to rule out any possible fleet-wide problems.

      The Canadian Forces has confirmed contact was lost with a Canadian CH-148 Cyclone helicopter taking part in NATO operations in the Mediterranean. (CBC News)

      Cowbrough remembered as a talented bagpiper

      Cowbrough kept in touch with her grandmother online, sending her messages about the routine on the ship, and calming Shewchuk's fears about COVID-19 breaking out among the crew.

      "My day consists of an early morning run and a workout, studying, learning, working on equipment, meals and snacks and reading a book before bed ...They keep us well fed and stocked up with snacks," Cowbrough said in a message, recounted by Shewchuk.

      Cowbrough told her grandmother in the wake of the coronavirus that the situation on the ship was "not too bad."  

      "It's more or less life as normal on the ship for us other than the fun city visits have stopped," she said. "But in about a week, I should be receiving my mail from home with some goodies and slippers."

      WATCH | Sub.-Lt. Abbigail Cowbrough was a 'ray of light,' says grandmother:

      'She touched lives everywhere,' says Brenda Shewchuk of her granddaughter, who was killed in a Canadian military helicopter crash. 'Everything she did, she was so passionate about.' 8:42

      Shewchuk said Cowbrough was a talented bagpiper and had been playing since she was a child.

      Following the deadly shooting in Nova Scotia on April 18 and 19, Cowbrough was recorded playing Amazing Grace on her bagpipes, standing on the deck of HMCS Fredericton, as a tribute to the 22 victims. 

      Cowbrough was a member of the Union Fire Club Pipes and Drums. In a Facebook post, the group said it was "profoundly saddened to hear that a beloved member of our band has lost her life while serving her country."

      The Regal Heights Baptist Church in Dartmouth identified Cowbrough as a member of its congregation in a Facebook post Thursday morning, saying the church was "heartbroken" to have "lost a wonderful young woman."

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      About the Author

      Taryn Grant

      Reporter

      Taryn Grant is a Halifax-based reporter and web writer for CBC Nova Scotia. You can email her with tips and feedback at taryn.grant@cbc.ca

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