Chopper crash claims 2 more Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan


Jul 06, 2009 11:34 PM

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – A helicopter crash possibly caused by mechanical failure claimed the lives of two Canadian soldiers on Monday, bringing Canada's death toll from the Afghanistan mission to four in as many days.

The crash of the Griffon helicopter at an American forward operating base in Zabul province, about 80 kilometres northeast of Kandahar city, killed Master Cpl. Pat Audet and Cpl. Martin Joannette along with a coalition soldier from another country.

Three other Canadians were hurt; two were able to return to duty, while the third was in stable condition. Sources said the two pilots survived.

"It has been an extremely difficult week here in Kandahar," Canadian commander Brig.-Gen. Jonathan Vance said early Tuesday.

"We all are feeling a great sense of loss."

While the exact cause of the crash was not immediately known, officials said it was not the result of insurgent activity, suggesting either mechanical failure or human error.

"A flight-safety investigation is currently underway to determine the cause of the crash," Vance said.

Audet, 38, served with the 430 Tactical Helicopter Squadron, while Joannette, 25, was with the 3e Bataillon, Royal 22e Regiment. Both were based at Valcartier, Que.

Vance described Audet as a "charismatic man who always knew the right words to put a smile on someone's face" and as a "big man with a gentle heart."

Joannette had a "heart of gold and a remarkable generosity," the general said.

"He was a proud and devoted infantryman who excelled in adversity."

The Zabul base is just outside Canada's main sphere of operations, but the crew was apparently on a transport mission.

The crash occurred at about 1:50 p.m. Kandahar time, just hours before a transport plane carrying the body of Cpl. Nick Bulger, who was killed last Friday in an IED strike, arrived at CFB Trenton, Ont.

On Saturday, Master Cpl. Charles-Philippe Michaud passed away in Quebec City from injuries he suffered from stepping on a mine on June 23. He was from Edmundston, N.B.

In all, six Canadian soldiers have now been killed in less than a month following a two-month period of relative calm that saw no deaths.

Monday was the worst day in terms of Canadian fatalities in Afghanistan since March 20, when four soldiers died in two separate incidents.

Canada has now lost 124 soldiers since the Afghan mission began in 2002.

Griffons, part of Canadian Helicopter Force Afghanistan, are used primarily as transport and escort choppers. The Canadians have been flying them in southern Afghanistan since the beginning of the year.

Although highly reliable, they are vulnerable to atmospheric dust and are at times unable to fly for that reason.

Audet, who was on his first Afghanistan deployment, is survived by his wife Katherine and his parents.

Joannette was on his third deployment in Afghanistan. He leaves behind his wife Marie-Eve.

"With the arrival of the Griffon and Chinook helicopters in our area of operations, (Audet and Joannette) played a valuable role in reducing exposures to IEDs, and by providing aviation support to combat operations," Vance said.

"Their contribution here in Afghanistan was incredible, and we will remember their sacrifice always."

In a recent interview, Lt.-Col. Marc Bigaouette, commander of the chopper force, expressed pride in his team, saying he did not consider them "to be second to anybody in theatre" when it came to defending aircraft.

Two years ago, Master Cpl. Darrell Jason Priede, a combat cameraman, was killed when a U.S. helicopter was reportedly shot down by the Taliban in Helmand province.