The Royal Canadian Air Force squadron was on a cross-county mission to bolster spirits during the pandemic
One member of the world-renowned Royal Canadian Air Force Snowbirds was killed and another seriously injured late Sunday morning when their plane crashed near the Kamloops Airport in the British Columbia Interior.
“It is with heavy hearts that we announce that one member of the CF Snowbirds team has died and one has sustained serious injuries,” the Snowbirds tweeted Sunday afternoon.
The victim has been identified as Captain Jenn Casey, the squadron’s Public Affairs Officer.
“To all Snowbirds past and present, and their families, you have my deepest sympathies on behalf of all ranks of the Canadian Armed Forces,” tweeted General Jonathan Vance, Canada’s Chief of Defence Staff.
The crash into a residential area of Kamloops happened just before noon as dozens of people watched.
“Emergency crews including Kamloops Airport’s aircraft rescue fleet are responding to an aircraft crash off airport involving a Canadian Snowbirds jet,” the airport tweeted just after noon, Pacific Time.
“Paramedics and air ambulances were dispatched and one individual was transported to hospital,” said provincial health minister Adrian Dix.
A video posted on Twitter by local radio station CHNL suggested the plane crashed shortly after departure from Kamloops.
The plane climbed with another jet, and after a few seconds in the air, pitched up, rolled and nosed down. Two puffs of smoke can be seen, suggesting two crew members ejected seconds before the plane hit the ground, the video showed.
The Snowbirds are in the final days of a cross-country mission dubbed “Operation Inspiration” to help bolster spirits during the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, the tour has generated thousands of pictures from thrilled Canadians on social media.
“During a difficult time for our country, they were a source of hope, travelling across Canada away from their families, for us,” said Governor-General Julie Payette, a pilot and former astronaut. “Tonight, as this tight knit group mourns the loss of one of their own, we grieve with them, as one family.
“On behalf of all Canadians, I offer my deepest condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of Captain Casey,” she said in a statement. “I would also like to extend my best wishes to the pilot injured in the crash for a speedy recovery.”
The Snowbirds said Captain Richard MacDougall suffered non life-threatening injuries.
A video posted to Twitter by Jamie Rye purported to show the rescue of one of the Snowbird team members from the roof of a house in the Kamloops area.
The Snowbirds tour began May 3 in Halifax and was in the British Columbia Interior this weekend.
“The hearts of British Columbians are with the family and loved ones of those involved in the crash,” said B.C. Lieutenant-Governor Janet Austin. “My sympathies to all on the @CFSnowbirds team, who worked so hard to bring hope to us in these challenging times.”
The Snowbirds were in Kamloops this morning, with plans to fly to the nearby Okanagan Valley, but poor weather forced the team to scrub the mission. They were instead to relocate to Vancouver Island to resume their tour.
“Transit through some of the mountain passes have very low cloud cover which is unsafe for flying 9 jets,” the team tweeted just an hour and a half before the crash. “We are going to preposition to Comox to start working our way west.”
“I heard the Snowbird,” wrote Twitter user MikeGT79. “Took a look out the window and saw it do a barrel roll, the pilot ejected, the pane took a nosedive straight down.”
I heard the Snowbird. Took a look out the window and saw it do a barrel roll… the pilot ejected… the plane took a nosedive straight down. #Kamloops— ᎷᎥᏦᏋ (@MikeGT79) May 17, 2020
The Snowbirds fly a CT-114 Tutor, a training aircraft bought by the Canadian military in 1962. The usually carry a crew of two, a pilot and a flight engineer who also helps maintain the aircraft.
“The Tutors flown by the Snowbirds are slightly modified from the training version,” reads a description of the aircraft on the Snowbirds’ website. “In addition to show features, the modified version has a more highly-tuned engine to enhance performance during low-level aerobatic flying.”
The weather at Kamloops reported clouds in the area, with good visibility and light winds around 7 km/h.
Before Sunday’s crash, seven Snowbirds pilots and one technician have been killed since 1972. Casey will be the ninth person killed by the crash of a Snowbird Tutor.
“Flying by its very nature has an inherent element of risk,” said the RCAF on a tribute page. “Eight Snowbird pilots have lost their lives in the performance of their duty. We remember them.”