Recovery ship on its way to Cyclone helicopter crash scene in Ionian Sea
A specialized salvage ship carrying a combined Canadian and American military recovery team has departed Soudas Bay, Greece on a mission to retrieve the wreckage of a downed CH-148 Cyclone helicopter.
In a statement issued Monday, the Department of National Defence said the EDT Hercules vessel is expected to take two days to arrive at the crash site, which is about 22 nautical miles east of Catania, Italy in the Ionian Sea.
The search will begin within 24 hours of the arrival of the Hercules on site.
The helicopter — call sign Stalker-22 — was returning from a routine surveillance training mission on April 29 when it crashed into the ocean within sight of HMCS Fredericton, the patrol frigate from which it was operating.
Six military members — four flight crew and two sailors — died in the accident.
The body of Sub-Lt. Abbigail Cowbrough was recovered almost immediately after the crash. The partial remains of one of the Cyclone's pilots, Capt. Brenden Ian MacDonald, also was retrieved from the crash scene.
The remaining members on board the flight — Capt. Kevin Hagen, Capt. Maxime Miron-Morin, Sub-Lt. Matthew Pyke and Master Cpl. Matthew Cousins — are missing and presumed dead.
A difficult retrieval
Retrieving the wreckage from about 3,000 metres of water is going to be a difficult and complicated task.
Aboard the Hercules is a American remotely-operated submersible which is capable of diving in deep waters.
Defence officials were reluctant last week to offer a timeline for the recovery operation because much will depend on weather and sea conditions in the area.
The crew of the Fredericton was able to plot the location where the aircraft went down, but defence officials cautioned during the technical briefing that the seabed and underwater currents may have shifted it since the accident.
The Cyclone carries with it an underwater crash beacon that continues to operate for 30 days after being activated. It can only be picked up, however, by a search vessel operating in the vicinity of the wreckage.
The Cyclone maritime helicopter fleet has been effectively grounded since the accident, although the military refers to it as an "operational pause".
A seven-person investigation team from the air force's Directorate of Flight Safety, which arrived in Italy on May 2, is required to release a preliminary report on the accident within 30 days. It will outline the focus of the investigation and could very well determine when the helicopter returns to service.
"We're hoping the [flight safety investigation] findings allow a safe return to flying operations," Maj.-Gen. Alain Pelletier, the Joint Force Component commander and the officer in charge of the 1st Canadian Air Division, said at last week's briefing.
The military said it is prepared to send a replacement helicopter to join HMCS Fredericton once it's deemed safe to proceed.