A Nova Scotia family says their daughter, Sub-Lieutenant Abbigail Cowbrough, was one of the victims of a helicopter crash during a military training exercise in the Mediterranean Sea.
SLt. Cowbrough, a crew member of the Halifax-class frigate HMCS Fredericton, was killed when a Cyclone helicopter went missing during a NATO mission off the coast of Greece, according to her mother, Tanya Cowbrough of Eastern Passage, N.S.
“My beautiful daughter has been in a military accident and passed away. She will no longer pipe her songs to all those that love her,” her mother said, in a post on Facebook.
“The very beating no fluttering of my heart has stopped. Nothing can replace her.”
At a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, Chief of the Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance confirmed the death of SLt. Cowbrough.
Later Thursday, the Canadian Forces identified the five service members still missing: Capt. Brenden Ian MacDonald, one of the Cyclone helicopter’s pilots. He is originally from New Glasgow, N.S.; Capt. Kevin Hagen, the Cyclone’s other pilot. He is originally from Nanaimo, B.C.; Capt. Maxime Miron-Morin, an air combat systems officer, originally from Trois-Rivieres, Que.; Sub-Lt. Matthew Pyke, naval weapons officer, originally from Truro, N.S.; and Master Cpl. Matthew Cousins, airborne electronic sensor operator, originally from Guelph, Ont.
SLt. Cowbrough is the first victim of the crash to be identified. A marine systems engineering officer in a training billet on the ship, she was a passenger on the helicopter, and not a normal part of its flight crew, which was based out of RCAF Shearwater, a Royal Canadian Air Force base near Dartmouth.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the HMCS Fredericton would have been barred from making weekly stops at ports around the Mediterranean, since naval officials are wary of the potential for the coronavirus that causes the disease to spread through the vessel. Riding along in the helicopter as it performed exercises would have been one of the few ways crew members could get a break from the ship.
SLt. Cowbrough was well-known in Halifax’s naval community. The HMCS Fredericton, based out of Canadian Forces Base Halifax, was in the region to reassure NATO countries, and counteract Russian aggression in the Mediterranean and Black seas.
“I am broken and gutted,” her father, Shane Cowbrough, wrote in a Facebook post. “There are no words. You made me forever proud. I will love you always, and miss you in every moment. You are the bright light in my life taken far too soon.”
SLt. Cowbrough was an active member of the Regal Heights Baptist Church in Dartmouth, known for playing the bagpipes, and she often sent photos of her time aboard the HMCS Fredericton back to church members. Just last Friday, she played Amazing Grace on the bagpipes on the deck of the ship in tribute to Nova Scotia’s mass shooting victims.
Her faith was a very important part of her life, say those who knew her.
“Abbi was one of the brightest lights in our church family, her smile could light up an entire sanctuary (or city block) and she loved Jesus with all her heart, and the true joy that can only come from Him that emanated from every one of Abbi’s pores,” said Shaun Alspach, part of the church’s leadership.
“Through the tears, I take comfort from knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that Abbi is standing in His presence now, filled with awe and wonder. The only tears are the ones left behind here on Earth. She is not crying at all.”
The Canadian military was looking for answers after losing contact with the Cyclone helicopter Wednesday.
“Search and rescue efforts are currently under way,” the military said in a statement. “As this is evolving, we have no further information to provide at this time.”
The Royal Canadian Air Force’s Cyclone helicopters carry a crew of four, including two pilots, a tactical operator and a sensor operator, with space for several passengers. They are primarily based on naval vessels and used for hunting submarines, surveillance and search and rescue.
Greek state broadcaster ERT was first to report that a Canadian military helicopter had gone down in the water between Italy and Greece. The broadcaster later said one body had been found and five others on board were missing.
In a tweet late Wednesday, the Canadian Forces said it has contacted all primary family members of those who were on board the helicopter.
HMCS Fredericton left its home port of Halifax with the Cyclone for a six-month deployment to Europe in January. While the navy has since recalled several of its warships because of COVID-19, the HMCS Fredericton has continued its mission.
With a report from The Canadian Press
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