A Canadian military helicopter serving with a NATO naval task force has crashed in international waters while operating between Greece and Italy, NATO said on Thursday.
The crash happened on Wednesday and local media reports, quoting the Greek Defence Ministry, said as many as six people were on board.
Aircraft from Canada, Italy and Turkey are carrying out search operations looking for the CH-148 Cyclone helicopter with additional support from Greece and the U.S., NATO said in a short statement.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to address the crash during his daily briefing at 11 a.m. ET today. CBCNews.ca will carry it live.
The helicopter was based on HMCS Fredericton, which had recently sailed from Souda, Greece, as part of a “mission of maritime situational awareness in the Mediterranean” including exercises with the Turkish Navy and Greece’s Hellenic Navy and Air Force this past week, NATO said.
The Canadian Armed Forces said on Twitter it has contacted all primary family members of those who were on board.
NATO has not released details about the people on board.
The CAF confirms we have contacted all primary family members of those who were on board the CH-148 Cyclone helicopter that was involved in an accident in the Mediterranean Sea. <a href=”https://t.co/5wVjRjboCl”>pic.twitter.com/5wVjRjboCl</a>
Search efforts continue with our Allies. The helicopter was operating with HMCS Fredericton as part of the Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2).
Greece expresses grief
“I express my grief over the crash of the Canadian helicopter in the Ionian Sea last night,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Thursday, speaking in parliament.
Mitsotakis said he would contact Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to express his condolences.
Greek state broadcaster ERT was first to report that a Canadian military helicopter had gone down in the water between Italy and Greece on Wednesday.
The broadcaster later said one body had been found and five others on board were missing.
A NATO source told CBC News that contact with the helicopter was lost early in the evening on Wednesday, around 8:15 p.m. local time. The flight was briefed as a routine operation while the task force was at sea, according to the official, who asked that their name be kept confidential because of the sensitivity of the subject.
HMCS Fredericton is part of the standing NATO naval group in the area. It has been on deployment since January.
WATCH | Canadian military helicopter missing near Greece:
The Greek state television channel ERT reported that the helicopter had come from the Canadian frigate, which is taking part in the alliance’s Operation Reassurance meant to deter Russian aggression throughout Eastern Europe.
The crash reportedly happened in the Ionian Sea about 80 kilometres off the Greek resort island of Cephalonia.
The Cyclone is a militarized version of the Sikorsky S-92 utility helicopter.
The Cyclones replaced the air force’s five-decade-old CH-124 Sea Kings, which were gradually retired from service over the last few years. The crash of a Cyclone would represent a major blow given how long the military had to wait for the aircraft to be developed.
Originally ordered in 2004, the program faced delays and cost escalations to the point where former auditor general Sheila Fraser slammed the federal government’s handling of the project in 2010.
The Cyclone routinely flies with a crew of four: two pilots, a tactical operator and a sensor operator. There is, however, room for several passengers. The helicopter’s primary mission is hunting submarines, but it has a sophisticated surveillance suite and is also outfitted for search-and-rescue.
A Canadian helicopter involved in Op REASSURANCE with NATO allies has gone missing off the coast of Greece. I have spoken with Minister <a href=”https://twitter.com/HarjitSajjan?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@HarjitSajjan</a>, and search and rescue efforts are currently underway. Updates will be provided as soon as possible.
Since coming into service, the Cyclone has been deployed on five overseas missions with the navy, including previous NATO stints.
The air force repeatedly has praised the aircraft’s capabilities — although it was involved in at least one shipboard accident while serving with HMCS Regina and the resupply ship MV Asterix in the Pacific Ocean last year.
A Cyclone suffered what defence officials described at the time as a “hard landing” aboard the Asterix on Feb. 18, 2019.