Two RCAF CH-147F Chinook, multi-mission, medium to heavy-lift helicopters are seen at CFB Bagotville in Bagotville, Que. on Thursday, June 7, 2018. The Royal Canadian Air Force says one of its military helicopters has been involved in an unspecified incident while operating in eastern Ontario early this morning. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Search and recovery operation ongoing after RCAF helicopter crash near Petawawa

A search and recovery operation was underway near Garrison Petawawa early Tuesday evening as crews tried to find two people missing since a Royal Canadian Air Force helicopter crashed overnight.

The CH-147 Chinook helicopter crashed during a training mission near the Ottawa River just after midnight with four crew members on board.

Two people were taken to hospital in Pembroke, Ont., overnight, and a search for the other two continued on the water and in the air throughout the day.

The prime minister caused significant confusion Tuesday afternoon, when he suggested the missing crew members were dead.

Justin Trudeau told reporters he had spoken with Gen. Wayne Eyre, chief of the defence staff, to express condolences for the members “who’ve been killed” and promised a “thorough investigation” into the crash.

“The fact is there will be a thorough investigation,” Trudeau said. “There will be answers to give, but right now we’re focusing on notification of families and support.”

The Prime Minister’s Office offered no immediate explanation for his comments, and the Department of National Defence said in an emailed response to questions that the search was continuing and “official confirmation” would be provided once more information was available.

The military has not said anything about what caused the crash.

The search involved about 50 Canadian Armed Forces members on shore and in the water, with help from an Ontario Provincial Police marine unit, Petawawa and Pembroke fire departments and several military rescue aircraft.

Helicopters were flying over the river, with military vehicles blocking roads and access to beaches as the Armed Forces kept the search area contained on Tuesday.

Pembroke resident Kathleen Neathway was planning a day at the beach with her daughter to celebrate her kindergarten graduation. Their plans changed, she said, when she began hearing about the crash overnight.

“We’re mostly military up here, it’s a big military community,” she said. “So it’s probably affecting most (people) because it’s a close-knit area.”

Neathway said she hoped to cool off at a local splash pad, but those were also closed Tuesday as municipal officials asked people to restrict their water usage as much as possible.

The city of Pembroke and township of Laurentian Valley said in an online notice that no water quality advisories were issued and the system was producing clean drinking water, but asked people to reduce usage.

In a press release early Tuesday morning, the Department of National Defence also asked boaters to stay out of the area to “avoid potentially hazardous materials from the aircraft” and maintain the integrity of the scene.

Petawawa is about 160 kilometres northwest of Ottawa.

The military’s fleet of 15 Chinooks is used to transport troops and equipment and is designed for long-haul flights.

The helicopters have also been deployed to help with natural disasters in Canada and to provide emergency medical evacuations during an operation in Mali in 2018 and 2019.

Last August, the United States military grounded its fleet of 400 Chinook helicopters after several reports that fuel leaks had caused engine fires. No injuries or deaths had been reported.

At the time, a spokesperson for the Department of National Defence said there had not been any such issues with the Royal Canadian Air Force fleet and that the Canadian military would be in touch with Boeing, the manufacturer.

A spokesperson for Boeing declined to answer questions Tuesday.