Grief grows as helicopter search and rescue effort turns to recovery mission

canadian-armed-forces

As Nova Scotia’s military community mourns, the news from officials Friday afternoon was grim.

“At 2 p.m. Atlantic today, 6 p.m. at the scene of the accident in the Ionian Sea, search and rescue efforts were transitioned into recovery efforts,” Rear-Admiral Craig Baines commander of Maritime Atlantic Forces, announced on Friday afternoon.

After scouring a littered seascape with its NATO allies, a Canadian Forces warship formally ended its search for survivors Friday after its maritime helicopter crashed off the coast of Greece.

It’s difficult news for those who are grieving the lives lost.

Six military personnel were aboard the helicopter when it went down in the Mediterranean Sea as it was returning to the Halifax-based frigate, HMCS Fredericton.

One confirmed casualty, 23-year-old Sub-Lieutenant Abigail Cowbrough, a Marine Systems Engineer from Halifax.

Five others are missing and presumed dead.

pilot Capt. Brenden Ian MacDonald of New Glasgow, N.S.;
pilot Capt. Kevin Hagen of Nanaimo, B.C.;
air combat systems officer Capt. Maxime Miron-Morin, from Trois-Rivières, Que.;
naval warfare officer Sub-Lt. Matthew Pyke of Truro, N.S.; and,
airborne sensor operator Master Cpl. Matthew Cousins from Guelph, Ont.

Canadian Forces say remains have been recovered, but not identified.

It was just last Friday, when navy Sub-Lt. Abbigail Cowbrough posted a video on social media in which she played Amazing Grace on the bagpipes on board HMCS Fredericton in honour of the victims of Nova Scotia's mass shooting.

In a video posted Thursday night, pipers from around the world gathered virtually, to play the very song Cowbrough had performed online just a week ago.

The Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo Massed Pipers, along with pipers from across Canada, the U.K., Germany, and New Zealand participated in the project, which has over 50,000 combined views on Facebook and YouTube.

Cowbrough and her colleagues, now remembered for their service.

New Glasgow’s mayor recalls a young Brendan MacDonald’s discipline in everything he did.

“Brendan was a child of New Glasgow, I guess he would say. He grew up here, his parents live here,” recalled Nancy Dicks, mayor of New Glasgow.

The town is now mourning the loss of the dedicated pilot.

“When the word comes that it’s somebody from your community, the heaviness of the sadness is just a little bit greater,” says Dicks.

Sub-lieutenant Matthew Pyke's cousin remembers Pyke of having a heart of gold.

“He had the best smile of anybody I’ve ever known, and it was infectious,” says Lynette Casey.

Pyke served for many years as a volunteer firefighter in Rawdon, N.S., before joining the Navy several years ago.

“The last time I spoke to him personally was in December and he was very happy. It’s like he found his calling I guess,” remembers Casey.

For 12 Wing Shearwater and the surrounding community, this tragedy at a time when the province is still trying to cope with 22 lives lost in the mass shooting almost two weeks ago, and is in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You just know that life has changed for theses people” says Barbara Adams, MLA for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage, which includes the Shearwater base. “On top of a pandemic that’s already meant that they can’t get the kind of support that we would want to be giving them.”

For now, Nova Scotians are showing support as best they can, to try to heal so many broken hearts.

Recovery efforts continue off the coast of Greece in the Ionian Sea.

HMCS Frederiction is assisting along with aircraft and vessels from the Italian, American and Greek military forces.

The investigation into what happened will be ongoing for some time.

(With files from CTV Atlantic's Heidi Petracek and Allan April)