Senior CAF Leaders Speak on Cyclone Incident, Search and Recovery Efforts

May 21, 2020 -  – Defence Stories

Three top Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) operational commanders spoke to media on 19 May 2020 on the commencement of an operation to locate and recover the crew and CH-148 Cyclone “Stalker 22” helicopter. Present at the briefing were: Lieutenant-General Mike Rouleau, Commander of Canadian Joint Operational Command; Rear-Admiral Craig Baines, Maritime Component Commander; and Major-General (now Lieutenant-General) Alain Pelletier, Joint Force Air Component Commander (JFACC).

The following are select excerpts from this briefing, which add important context to current coverage on this tragic accident.

On the search and recovery operation, flight safety investigation and Cyclone operational pause:

LGen Rouleau: "I would emphasize we are here today to discuss the search and recovery operation in the aftermath of the April 29th crash of our Stalker 22 call sign which was conducting maritime flying and surveillance operations from Her Majesty's Canadian ship Fredericton who itself was operating as a warship in Standing NATO Maritime Group 2".

MGen Pelletier: "Following the crash, a seven person flight safety investigation team was quickly dispatched and arrived in Taranto, Italy on May 2nd to begin their investigation. The data modules for the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorders were brought back to Canada for analysis by the National Research Council and the aircraft manufacturer."

"The investigative team continues to sort through and analyze the information at this time. There are no further updates at this stage of the investigation. In the coming weeks the RCAF directorate of flight safety is expected to issue its 'From the Investigator' report that will outline focus areas for the continuing investigation and will inform our decision regarding the fleet.”

"Immediately following the accident I ordered an operational pause on the CH-148 Cyclone fleet in my capacity as the operational air worthiness authority of the Royal Canadian Air Force. This pause was put in place as a safety precaution and resulted in a temporary cessation of flying operations on the Cyclone while we regroup as a team and work to assess and mitigate any potential risks associated with the operation of the aircraft."

RAdm Craig Baines: "On behalf of the Royal Canadian Navy I would also like to express my sincere condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of those we lost. The planning and beginning steps of the Canadian Armed Forces search and recovery operation of our downed CH-148 Cyclone and its crew is now underway".

"As we speak we have an eight-member Canadian team deployed to Italy who are conducting preparations for the at sea search and recovery operation. Over the past several days we've consulted with salvage specialists and our allies in order to determine the most rapidly executable search and recovery operation with a proven capability which will provide us with the best opportunity to quickly find the remains of our fallen and our lost Cyclone helicopter".

"The Canadian Armed Forces will be assisted by the US Navy, specifically members of their naval sea systems command, NASC, and the department of the supervisor of salvage and diving. The USN offered us this option as both the fastest means of commencing the search while at the same time using the same system to recover what we potentially discover".

"This is a proven USN capability that has been used dozens of times for search and recovery operations which will allow us to transition quickly from the search phase to the recovery phase with the same remotely operated vehicle. This will avoid lengthy delays in transition between search and recovery".

"The search and recovery will use the USN's REMORA remotely operated vehicle or ROV with a fly away deep ocean salvage system that integrates the ROV with the salvage vessel. The ROV is able to operate to a depth of 6,000 metres, twice the expected depth of where the Cyclone helicopter went down. The ROV will dive on the site from the EDT Hercules, an offshore multipurpose support vessel which will also be used as a platform for potential deep sea recovery".

On the CH-148 Cyclone Helicopter:

LGen Rouleau: "The Cyclone has flow operationally to very good effect for CJOC since July 2018, since it was introduced for operational service. We have flown in excess of 2,200 hours operationally with this aircraft. There's a whole bunch of… I think about another 7,000 hours that were flown prior to that by the air force to certify it for operations."

"All of that said, something went tragically wrong on April 29th for that helicopter to go down. This is why the search and recovery mission that we're here to talk about today is so important. We need to find answers as to why this machine went down and why we lost six of our own. That's exactly what we're going to do in the search and recovery."

On the 29 April 2020 mission of Cyclone Stalker 22:

RAdm Craig Baines: "The helicopter was doing a maritime surveillance operation working with Standing NATO Maritime Group 2…. That mission was to be able to pass information back and forth between the helicopter and the ship so they have a good understanding of what is in their vicinity. It's a very normal mission for the helicopter. As part of that two sub-lieutenants from the ship under the commanding officer's authority were on the helicopter to become familiar with helicopter operations."

"As you can appreciate, having a helicopter on board the ship is really important and it's also important that the folks that work on the ship understand how the helicopters work, what their missions are, so they can better use them when they're on the ship. That's why the sub-lieutenants were on board" (the Cyclone).

On whether photos were taken around the time of the accident:

LGen Rouleau: "This helicopter took off from the ship to conduct a maritime surveillance operation. It had been in the air for I believe several hours and was returning to the ship. I wouldn't want to leave you with the notion that it took off to go and do a photo run. That was not the case".

RAdm Craig Baines: "What I can confirm is part of normal operations for a helicopter when it's returning to the ship is often to fly close by the ship and will take photos of the ship or the ship will take photos of the helicopter. This happens not on every trip but certainly on many of them. That certainly did occur in this case prior to the helicopter eventually attempting to return back to the ship for recovery and the hoist operation."

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