The investigation into the death of two military personnel near Garrison Petawawa on Tuesday is expected to be a months-long investigation, including a team of 16 investigators who will work at the site for up to two weeks to collect evidence.
The Department of National Defense (DND) said a CH-147F Chinook carrying four Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members on a training flight crashed into the Ottawa River near Garrison Petawawa just after midnight Tuesday.
A day later, DND confirmed that two members of staff reported missing had been found dead.
The investigation into the fatal crash has begun and any flight safety inquiry will focus on two main questions: what happened and what caused it, said Randall Wakelam, a retired CAF colonel and senior lecturer emeritus at the Royal Military College in Kingston. Ont.
“The first answer will probably take weeks,” Wakelam said.
As his flying days ended in 1993, Wakelam acted as a flight safety officer and suffered a non-fatal crash during his time with the 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron in Edmonton.
Later in his career – returning to the squadron but this time as commanding officer – another crash occurred, this time with Wakelam losing a colleague.
“I have to watch the whole process from outside the flight safety system,” he said.
Wakelam said 450 Squadron’s flight safety officer would have taken some immediate measures following the early Tuesday morning crash, including quarantining the aircraft, its components, all data recording equipment and all aircraft maintenance records.
He also believes the squadron would have submitted a preliminary report within the first 24 hours.
WATCH: Helicopter crash investigation begins:
Aircraft salvage is still ongoing
Michael Hood, a retired senior officer of the Royal Canadian Air Force who was commander from 2015 to 2018, said his first priority would be to ensure that personnel and others affected by the loss are supported.
Hood would then turn his attention to the fleet itself, the 14 other Chinooks.
“As we gain more insight into the cause of the accident, (it) would give us more confidence in how we can move forward in continuing to operate that fleet,” he said.
Defense Minister Anita Anand said on Wednesday that the fleet will suspend operations out of respect but will not be grounded.
Ottawa morning10:06What to expect from the investigation into the deadly Petawawa military crash
The CH-147F Chinook helicopter is equipped with a black box, according to a department spokesman, and obtaining and analyzing the information from that is part of the investigation.
“The CH-147F has state-of-the-art flight data recorders to provide parameters on everything from the rotor to the engine,” Hood said. “So they have all the information to help fill in the pieces.”
On Wednesday afternoon, the department said the cause of the crash remains unclear and recovery of the wreckage is still underway.
Almost immediately after the crash, the Royal Canadian Air Force headquarters in Ottawa were reportedly engaged, Wakelam said.
The Directorate of Flight Safety of the Air Force is responsible for the independent investigation of aviation safety matters. The team is said to have arrived at the scene between 12 and 24 hours after the crash and took over responsibility for the site once it was deemed safe.
DND said the directorate’s team of about 16 people includes investigators, medical advisers, a fleet operations adviser and a technical and technical adviser.
The field phase of the research, with management at the forefront, usually lasts one to two weeks. During that time, investigators conduct interviews, take photographs, and collect debris.
The research is important. … But caring for the people must come first.– Randall Wakelam, retired CAF Colonel
This will be followed by a thorough examination of the evidence, according to DND.
In due course, a summary of facts and points for attention will be published on the website of the Board of Directors. A final report – including factors leading to the crash, preventive measures taken and recommendations for the future – will follow.
DND said it is too early to give a timeline on when that report will be published. Wakelam said it could take up to 12 months, with Hood reiterating that each trial is different.
Wakelam and Hood said the two survivors, who suffered minor injuries, could provide insight into what happened in the moments leading up to the crash.
WATCH: Helicopter crash ‘an anomaly’, says retired general
Ontario’s Office of the Chief Coroner is also investigating the two deaths in conjunction with DND.
Wakelam has previously lost a member of his squadron and said it is important to care for the survivors, families and colleagues during this time.
The families of the victims will decide whether a military funeral will be held, Wakelam said.
The DND spokesperson said support is being provided to the families and will respect their wishes when planning funerals and ceremonies, with more information expected in the coming days.
Families have asked the department to withhold the names of the victims at this time.
“The research is important,” Wakelam said. “But caring for the people must come first.”