A Canadian Forces Snowbird plane crashed in a B.C. neighbourhood Sunday, killing one team member and seriously injuring another.
The day began with anticipation in the Thompson Okanagan region as people waited for a glimpse of the Snowbirds in the sky and their national tour to boost morale and salute front-line workers during the coronavirus pandemic. It ended with “heavy hearts” as the Royal Canadian Air Force confirmed the toll of the crash.
Capt. Jenn Casey, a public affairs officer with the Canadian Forces, died in the incident, said the Department of National Defence Sunday night, while one of the team’s co-ordinators and pilot Capt. Richard MacDougall was being treated for serious but not life-threatening injuries.
The incident unfolded just before noon local time in Kamloops, B.C. after the jet took off from the airport.
“I was about two or three blocks away, and we heard the jets take off. About three or four seconds later, we heard two giant booms,” said Brayden Regamey, who lives near the airport, where he also works.
According to witnesses, one of the aircraft climbed into the sky before rolling over and plunging to the ground. Video recorded by a bystander shows smoke appearing from the plane and at least one person ejecting from the aircraft before an explosion is heard.
The plane crashed in a residential area and led to a house fire, as people rushing from their homes to help.
“I just started running down the street. And I got there maybe a minute after it crashed and there was a couple of residents that had their hoses out and they were trying to put the flames out,” said Kenny Hinds, who lives seven doors down from the crash site.
“I saw the tail of the Snowbird on the left side of the street, and at least half of the plane, from the middle to the nose, had slid [down the street],” he told HuffPost Canada.
Tammy Franzman, who also lives near the crash site said she thought it was a house explosion — until she ran toward smoke coming from the back of a nearby home and saw the tail of the plane across the street from it.
“That’s when I heard the pilot was on a roof a couple of houses down from Schreiner Avenue,” she told HuffPost.
Officials said one person was taken to the hospital.
Rose Miller, who lives directly across the street from where the plane hit, said she spoke to the couple in their early 70s who live in the home, and both are OK. The woman had been in the basement while the man was behind the house.
Former reporter joined the Canadian Forces
Casey joined the Canadian Forces in 2014 and was based out of Trenton, Ont., after working in radio as a reporter, anchor and producer in her hometown of Halifax and Belleville, Ont., according to her Royal Canadian Air Force bio.
Casey spent most of 2018 with the CF-18 Demo Team, travelling around North America and the United Kingdom with the NORAD 60 jet. She joined the Snowbirds in November 2018.
The Snowbirds started their cross-country flyover, dubbed Operation Inspiration, earlier this month. In a poignant performance, the squadron flew a special “missing man” manoeuvre over Nova Scotia to remember victims of the country’s worst mass shooting, as well as members of the Canadian Forces who died in a helicopter crash off Greece.
Capt. Joel Wilson explained to CTV News at the time that the manoeuvre is when one jet flies off the nine-aircraft formation to symbolize members who have died on duty.
Casey’s home province is Nova Scotia.
“Operation Inspiration was intended to lift the spirit of Canadians at this difficult time and the Snowbirds accomplished their mission. I know that all Canadians grieve this tragic loss,” said Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he joined Canadians in mourning Casey.
“I’m sending my deepest condolences to her loved ones, and wishing Captain Richard MacDougall a full recovery,” he posted.
“For the past two weeks, the Snowbirds have been flying across the country to lift up Canadians during these difficult times. Every day, they represent the very best of Canada and demonstrate excellence through incredible skill and dedication,” said Trudeau in a statement.
Hours before the crash, the Snowbirds had posted a video that showed them making their way from Salmon Arm to Kamloops. Their social accounts had also posted about a delay in their scheduled trip from Kamloops to Kelowna due to rain and low visibility.
The Snowbirds fleet has been placed on “operational pause” and the Operation Inspiration has been “delayed indefinitely,” said the Defence department. Flight safety investigators were leaving Ottawa Sunday to investigate the circumstances of the accident, it added.
Sunday’s crash follows the downing of another Snowbird in the U.S. state of Georgia last October, where the team was scheduled to perform in an air show.
Capt. Kevin Domon-Grenier sustained minor injuries when he ejected from the plane, which crashed into a farmer’s field. No one else was hurt.
Famous air shows
The Snowbird air shows feature nine CT-114 Tutors flying in formation, and performing different manoeuvres at speeds between 190 km/h and 590 km/h.
Based at 15 Wing Moose Jaw, near Moose Jaw, Sask, the Snowbirds are considered a key tool for raising awareness about — and recruiting for — the air force.
The air force obtained its Tutor jets in 1963 and has used them in air demonstrations since 1971. Prior to Sunday’s crash, seven pilots and one passenger had been killed and several aircraft had been lost over the course of the Snowbirds’ history.
With files from The Canadian Press
WATCH: Remembering Capt. Jenn Casey.