Jun 16, 2020

On 29 April 2020, a Sikorsky CH-148 Cycone helicopter, deployed with Royal Canadian Navy frigate HMCS Fredericton and participating in NATO exercises, crashed off the coast of Greece, killing all six members of the Canadian Armed Forces who were on board.

On 8 June, the first investigative report determined the aircraft was "returning from a routine surface reconnaissance mission followed by additional training (flight deck evolutions) for aircrew proficiency prior to landing on HMCS Fredericton. The helicopter had flown by the port side of the ship, from stern to bow, before making a left hand turn to establish a downwind leg in preparation for approach to the ship. The aircraft then commenced a final left turn to set-up for the approach. During this final complex manoeuvring turn […], the aircraft did not respond as the crew would have anticipated. This event occurred at a low altitude, was unrecoverable, and the aircraft entered a high energy descent and impacted the water astern the ship."

As explained during a 16 June media briefing in Ottawa, the aircraft was in a “low level environment” when returning to the Royal Canadian Navy frigate HMCS Fredericton when the “high energy” crash occurred. 

It has been determined that a "flight controls conflict" on the Cyclone happened so quickly that the pilots had no time to react to the situation.

Colonel John Alexander, a former Royal Canadian Air Force tactical helicopter pilot and now Director of Flight Safety and Airworthiness Investigative Authority, said the twin-engine Cyclone “did not respond as the crew have anticipated” before crashing into the Ionian Sea off Greece during a NATO exercise.

The pilot was descending in a “complex manoeuvre” with the automatic flight control system engaged and working with the airspeed indicator and a radar altimeter above a calm sea surface. However, prolonged pilot pitch, roll and yaw inputs resulted in a control bias toward the automated system.

The flight profile, determined from preliminary flight data recorder analysis by the National Research Council, has been replicated by Sikorsky as well as the RCAF at 423 Maritime Helicopter Sqn in Shearwater, Nova Scotia. The simulators responded “almost identically” to what had occurred onboard the actual aircraft.

Col Alexander said the RCAF had been able to categorically exclude mechanical failure, that the crash was due to an unprecedented combination of manual and computer control inputs which left the crew no time to save the aircraft.

The focus now, as the RCAF moves to lift an “operational pause . . . . in the coming days”, will be on additional aircrew training, including simulator sorties, as well as some ground training. LGen Alain Pelletier, Commander of 1 Canadian Air Division and the Operational Airworthiness Authority, told reporters he has “full confidence” in the platform going forward.

BGen Nancy Tremblay, (Director-General of Aerospace Equipment Program Management and Technical Airworthiness Authority, said the indication so far is that the accident was “absolutely unrelated” to any previous issues with the Cyclone fleet’s computerized flight controls.

A final report on the crash is not expected for at least several more months.