The Canadian military says the three-day search for survivors of a helicopter crash off Greece is now a search and recovery effort.
The Forces says it has recovered the remains believed to be those of Canadian service members aboard the Cyclone helicopter that went down in the Ionian sea, but they can’t yet be identified.
The helicopter, deployed aboard the frigate HMCS Fredericton on a NATO mission, went down while conducting a training exercise, as part of Operation Reassurance. Allied warships and aircraft have been helping the Canadian military in the search for the missing as well as the chopper wreckage.
Another member on board was 30-year-old Capt. Kevin Hagan, a pilot from Vancouver Island. He was born in Nanaimo but grew up in Ladysmith, Quadra Island and Victoria.
The Island-born pilot graduated from Lambrick Park Secondary in 2007. His sister Christie and brother Kyle also went to Lambrick Park, and his friends and family say he was a great student and musician. Kevin was a member of the 848 Royal Roads Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron.
Captain Kevin Hagen was a cadet at 848 RCACS and our hearts go out to his family and loved ones today as we all process the grief of losing an alumni of our squadron.
Hagen’s father released the following statement on Friday.
We are devastated and still trying to process the news to figure out what’s going on,” Steffen Hagan said.
“For me, his story is 30 years of incredible memories and it is so heartbreaking that it is has been cut this short. In the meantime, it goes without saying that everyone in our family will always remember Kevin as an amazing young man who gave unselfishly of himself to others. He was very caring and sensitive and this is such a tragic loss for everyone who was blessed to have known him. He accomplished so much in his life but was taken from us all far too soon. Telling the world how proud I am of Kevin doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface for those feelings of admiration I have always felt for him.
Hagen’s friends are also remembering the pilot.
Kyrle Symons was an Air Cadet with Hagen at 848 Squadron in Langley before both went to Gliding school at 19 Wing Comox in 2005. Both went to Lambrick Park Secondary School in Victoria as well.
“It’s a hard time,” said Kyrle Symons who knew Hagen. “I remember Kevin, Oh God, he always had this little smile on his face and he was a really easygoing guy.”
“We never really talked about it but I think all the crews when we went on a mission especially at night, we all knew inside that we were doing something very dangerous,” he said.
The military cannot confirm at this time if the remains found belong to Capt. Hagen.
The other members onboard included Capt. Brenden Ian MacDonald, Capt. Maxime Miron-Morin, Sub-Lt. Matthew Pyke, and Master Cpl. Matthew Cousins.
The Fredericton, as well as Turkish, Italian, Greek ships, helicopters and planes, thoroughly searched the area of the helicopter for survivors and came up short, he said.
“While searches on the sea are never easy, these units have completely saturated the area for the duration of the search over a known crash location,” Rear Admiral Craig Baines, the commander of the navy’s maritime command, told reporters on a windswept pier in Halifax.
“So we are certain that if there were survivors, we would have found them within the past 48 hours.”
Baines said Italian and Turkish ships are remaining at the scene of the accident to assist with recovery operations for at least the next 48 hours.
The Fredericton was bound for an Italian port and was expected to arrive Saturday. The crew planned to hold a vigil for their lost comrades.
“Upon arrival in Italy the ship will transfer the remains to our team on the ground who will facilitate their return to Canada via Canadian military airlift,” Baines said. “The remains of our fallen will be brought home next week.”
Baines said Fredericton’s crew would remain in Italy for several days before returning to resume its role in the NATO mission.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said all Canadians were mourning the loss of six military members.
“Every day these brave Canadians in uniform put themselves in harm’s way to keep our country and our citizens safe, and together we will honour their service to Canada and our closest allies,” Trudeau said in a statement.
“I also thank our NATO allies who worked side by side with members of our Armed Forces to search for the fallen.”
Gen. Jonathan Vance, the chief of the defence staff, said it was a “particularly difficult” situation for the families of those who died.
“What makes this all the more difficult to bear is our inability –thus far – to recover all of our fallen comrades,” Vance said Friday in his weekly letter to troops.
Vance said an investigation would hopefully find the cause of the crash.
“In the meantime, we grieve.”
The Canadian military also sent a flight investigation team to the region to determine the cause of the crash.
The Cyclone’s flight-data and voice recorders have been recovered after they broke away from the helicopter when it crashed and will soon be returned to Canada for analysis.
With files from The Canadian Press