Canadian Armed Forces members (clockwise from top left) Sub-Lt. Abbigail Cowbrough, Capt. Brenden MacDonald, Capt. Kevin Hagen, Capt. Maxime Miron-Morin, Master Cpl. Matthew Cousins and Sub-Lt. Matthew Pyke are shown in a Department of National Defence handout photos. All were aboard a Cyclone helicopter which crashed into the Ionian Sea off the coast of Greece on April 29. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Department of National Defence MANDATORY CREDIT

VIDEO: Six Canadian Forces members killed in helicopter crash honoured at ceremony

Helicopter crashed into the Ionian Sea off the coast of Greece on April 29

A nation already struggling with the emotions of a pandemic lockdown, a horrific plane crash in Iran and the worst mass shooting in its history grieved again on Wednesday as it honoured the victims of Canada’s worst military tragedy in more than a decade.

Canadians from coast to coast to coast watched as the six Armed Forces members killed in last week’s helicopter crash off the coast of Greece were welcomed home in a special ramp ceremony at Canadian Forces Base Trenton in Ontario.

The crash, whose cause remains under investigation, represents the largest loss of life in one day for the Canadian Armed Forces since six Canadian soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan on Easter Sunday 2007.

Reminders of COVID-19 were everywhere as the ceremony began, from the sparse crowd outside CFB Trenton to the masks and physical distancing of the victims’ families, military personnel and government leaders on hand.

Among those there in person were Gov.-Gen. Julie Payette and Justin Trudeau, the first Canadian prime minister to attend a ramp ceremony since Paul Martin in January 2004, according to Queen’s University professor Kim Nossal.

The pandemic wasn’t the only difference from previous ramp ceremonies, which started in their modern form during the decade-long war in Afghanistan. There were also the pillows and military headdresses, a reminder that the remains of most of those lost have not been recovered.

Under partially cloudy skies, six hearses were lined up on the tarmac awaiting the arrival of the C-17 Globemaster as the families of the dead and missing Forces members met privately with a mask-wearing Trudeau in a building on the edge of the tarmac.

A short time later, the heavy transport aircraft landed and taxied to the loading area, preparing to discharge its precious cargo to those families and a grieving nation.

The first to emerge was Sub-Lt. Abbigail Cowbrough, the 23-year-old sailor from Halifax whose remains were recovered shortly after the Cyclone helicopter crashed into the Ionian Sea on April 29 while returning from a NATO training mission.

A casket bearing her remains was slowly carried from the Globemaster’s hulking belly by eight military pallbearers wearing masks to a waiting hearse as a lone bagpiper played a lament. There Cowbrough’s family was given a chance to pay respects and lay roses on her casket.

And then came the first of the pillows for those now missing and presumed dead. This one bore the headdress of Capt. Brendan Ian MacDonald of New Glasgow, N.S., one of the pilots on board the Cyclone helicopter known as Stalker 22.

A lone Air Force member carried the pillow and hat to a hearse as the bagpiper started to play again, the pillowbearer’s lonely form a striking contrast to the eight pallbearers who moments before carried Cowbrough’s casket across the same stretch of grey tarmac.

As the pillow was placed in the hearse, MacDonald’s family came forward, roses in hand.

Then more pillows and headdresses. One for Capt. Kevin Hagen of Nanaimo, B.C., the other pilot on board. One for Capt. Maxime Miron-Morin, the Cyclone’s air combat systems officer from Trois-Rivieres, Que. One for Sub-Lt. Matthew Pyke, a naval warfare officer from Truro, N.S.

And then the last, for Master Cpl. Matthew Cousins, Stalker 22’s airborne electronic sensor operator, originally from Guelph, Ont.

After the ceremony is complete, the families and black cars will depart west down the Highway of Heroes toward Toronto.

The federal and Ontario governments have asked because of COVID-19 that people stay home during the traditional procession between CFB Trenton and the Ontario coroner’s office where all military remains repatriated from Afghanistan and after have been taken.

In Halifax, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil noted three of the victims were residents of his province and “they made us all proud.

“This has been a difficult time in our province and we offer our condolences to their families,” he said. “Let us remind ourselves today to take a moment to mourn their loss and honour their legacy. They served their country, they served this province and we will be forever grateful.”

READ MORE: More remains found as Canadian helicopter search turns to recovery near Greece

READ MORE: One dead, five missing after helicopter crash off Greece, Trudeau says

READ MORE: PM deflects questions about military’s delayed confirmation of helicopter crash


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Military

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Speed limit on Nanaimo’s Georgia Avenue will be lowered to 30km/h

Lower speed limit, traffic calming part of a package of roadway reallocation measures

Overdose advisory issued in Nanaimo

Island Health warns of increase in overdoses from opioids and stimulants

City building cycle lane on Departure Bay Road, walking lane on Boxwood

Nanaimo council approves three active transportation projects totalling $170,000

UPDATE: Nanaimo RCMP looking for suspects behind suspicious Bastion fire

Two people seen in the area where the fire broke out Monday

Recent surge in COVID-19 cases not unexpected amid Phase Three of reopening: B.C.’s top doc

Keep circles small, wear masks and be aware of symptoms, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

B.C. NDP changing WorkSafeBC regulations to respond to COVID-19

Employers say reclassifying coronavirus could be ‘ruinous’

Baby raccoon rescued from 10-foot deep drainage pipe on Vancouver Island

‘Its cries were loud, pitiful and heartbreaking,’ Saanich animal control officer says

Statistical flaws led to B.C. wolf cull which didn’t save endangered caribou as estimated

Study finds statistical flaws in an influential 2019 report supporting a wolf cull

Windows broken, racist graffiti left on Okanagan home

Family says nothing like this has happened since they moved to Summerland in 1980s

Beloved Island woman dies at 106

Dorothy Adair adored by the many people she met in Chemainus in two short years

Man arrested for allegedly pushing unsuspecting seniors, jumping on cars at Parksville mall

Cops arrest man after ‘aggressive incident’ at Wembley Mall in Parksville

B.C. man who went by ‘Doctor Ray Gaglardi’ charged with sex assault of teenage boys

The man, 75, is accused of assaulting teenage boys he met through Coquitlam-area churches

Most Read