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

Joanne Smith has been visiting Goldstream Provincial Park since she moved to Langford two years ago. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
PHOTOS: Visitors flock to Goldstream Provincial Park for 2020 salmon run

‘I wanted to come here before I move back to Australia,’ says visitor

Saanich Police are investigating a broken window at the Greater Victoria School District office. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
Saanich police investigating broken window at SD61 office

Police suspect the window was broken by a pellet, possibly from a slingshot

Emily Harris (centre) started the in-person Monarch Moms meet-up groups in July, when it was much easier to physical distance in outdoor spaces. Harris started the group as a source of connection for women navigating the ups and downs of having a baby during a pandemic. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Victoria new mom group navigates challenges of motherhood in a pandemic

Monarch Moms meet once a week for physically-distanced connection

The Takaya inspired sculpture currently in Kent Laforme’s outdoor studio. The 25,000-pound piece of Vancouver Island marble could be installed on Cattle Point. (Kevin Murdoch Photo)
Stone Takaya sculpture could soon ‘howl’ at Cattle Point

Oak Bay inviting public suggestions for 25,000-pound marble sculpture

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry presents modelling of COVID-19 spread in B.C., March 25, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 203 new cases

up to 1,766 active cases in B.C., two more deaths

Advance polls are open from Oct. 15 to 21 with election day on Oct. 24. (Black Press Media file photo)
Jordan Naterer, an electrical engineer from Vancouver, was last seen Saturday Oct. 10. (Facebook photo)
Search efforts to resume for missing Manning Park hiker; Trudeau speaks on case

PM says he’ll do what he can to ‘nudge’ efforts to find Jordan Naterer, yet has little leverage locally

Smartphone showing various applications to social media services and Google. (Pixabay photo)
National media calling for level playing field with Google, Facebook

In Canada, Google and Facebook control 80 per cent of all online advertising revenues

FILE – A voting package for the 2018 electoral reform referendum. Vote-by-mail packages for the 2020 provincial election will look similar, according to information provided by Elections BC. (Katya Slepian - Black Press Media)
POLL: Have you voted yet?

As election day quickly approaches, hundreds of thousands of British Columbians have… Continue reading

École de L’Anse-au-sable. (Google Maps)
B.C. records first COVID-19 outbreak at school, six weeks after students return to class

Three cases of the virus have been identified at École de L’Anse-au-sable

Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau is seen as she leaves media event during a campaign stop in West Vancouver, B.C., Tuesday, October 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green leader hopes voters see value in minority government

The Greens received nearly 17 per cent of the popular vote in 2017 yet received just three seats

Local candidates Pam Alexis, Abbotsford-Mission, and Preet Rai, Abbotsford-West, look on as NDP Leader John Horgan main streets in Abbotsford, B.C., Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. NDP takes snap election risk during pandemic in quest for majority government

Green Leader Sonia Furstenau said the election was unnecessary and irresponsible during the pandemic

Most Read