One member of the Canadian Armed Forces has died and another is injured after a Canadian Forces Snowbird plane crashed in a residential area of Kamloops, B.C., while on a cross-country tourmeant to impart hope during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Capt. Jenn Casey, a public affairs officer with the Canadian Forces, died in the incident, the Department of National Defence said Sunday night.
Capt. Richard MacDougall, the pilot of the aircraft, was being treated for his injuries that the Snowbirds said are not life-threatening.
“Canadians look at the Snowbirds as a source of joy and an exhibition of the incredible feats that our people in uniform are capable of,” Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan said in a statement. “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.”
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.
Tim Durkin, who worked with Casey at Quinte Broadcasting in Belleville, said they became fast friends when she joined the station in 2013.
“She just jumped right into the community and was involved with it,” he said. “Just somebody that when she walked into a room, she just made you smile. She was a great person and a great friend as well.”
Durkin said she loved hockey — particularly the Montreal Canadiens — and they attended the world junior hockey championship together three years ago in Montreal.
Casey’s roots were in Nova Scotia — a province that’s been ravaged by tragedy in the past month.
Under the spectre of the COVID-19 pandemic, a gunman killed 22 people in rural parts of the province, and a military helicopter from the Halifax-class frigate HMCS Fredericton went down over the Mediterranean Sea, killing six people — three of whom were from Nova Scotia.
“Now they lose one of their own daughters,” Durkin said. “It’s something that the whole country reels with, but Nova Scotia in particular is going to be hit hard now.”
The crash sent neighbours pouring onto the street where they said debris was scattered and a house was on fire.
Kenny Hinds, who lives seven doors down from the crash site, said it looked like the living room of the house where the crash occurred was on fire.
“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 because it hit a house,” he said. “It looked like most of it landed in the front yard, but maybe a wing or something went through the roof.”
Sunday’s crash occurred the same day the Snowbirds were scheduled to make a trip from Kamloops to Kelowna as part of Operation Inspiration, aimed at boosting the morale of Canadians struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian said the military is sending a team to investigate the incident. He said the Snowbirds remain in Kamloops, and the city and airport are offering as much help as possible to the team.
Gen. Jonathan Vance, chief of the defence staff, tweeted his condolences to all those affected.
“To all Snowbirds past and present, and their families, you have my deepest sympathies on behalf of all ranks of the Canadian Armed Forces,” he wrote.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that his thoughts are with “the brave members” of the Royal Canadian Air Force.
“I would also like to thank the emergency personnel in Kamloops who responded so quickly to this tragic incident,” he wrote.
Video posted to Twitter by 610 AM in Kamloops appears to show two Snowbirds taking off from what is believed to have been Kamloops Airport.
One of the aircraft subsequently climbed into the sky before rolling over and plunging to the ground. The video appears to show at least one person ejecting from the plane before it disappears behind a stand of trees and an explosion is heard.
— Victor Mario Kaisar (@supermario_47) May 17, 2020
Here’s what people at the scene of the Snowbirds crash in Brocklehurst have been posting to Snapchat: pic.twitter.com/26SH0rE1t0
— Andrea Woo | 鄔瑞楓 (@AndreaWoo) May 17, 2020
Marni Capostinsky said she lives across the street from the crash site and was out on the deck when she heard the plane getting closer.
“We ran out under the cover to look and saw something black coming towards us, everyone hit the deck it was so loud,” she said.
Capostinsky said there were large flames flaring on and off, and a strong toxic smell filled the air.
She said her son immediately ran out with a hose and neighbours tried to help before first responders arrived.
“It was really scary but good to see everyone trying to come together,” Capostinsky said.
Hinds had been watching the aircraft after hearing them take off, and said he was able to see the crash.
“I heard ‘bang, bang,’ and just as I looked before it left my view from the house beside me, I saw the Snowbird going straight down,” he said. “I saw what looked like a parachute about, say, 20 feet over the house, and it disappeared from sight, and the parachute hadn’t fully deployed yet _ it was still sort of straight up and down.”
Operation Inspiration started in Nova Scotiaearlier this month and features the team’s signature nine-jet formation.
Rose Miller lives directly across the street from where the plane hit. She’d watched the Snowbirds arrive on Saturday, and went to her front window when she heard the roar of jet engines.
Miller said she heard a loud bang and wondered whether it might be a sonic boom. Then she watched the plane smash onto the ground.
“It looked to me like it was mostly on the road, but it just exploded. It went everywhere,” she said. “In fact, I got a big huge piece in my backyard. The cops said it was the ejection seat.”
Miller said a couple in their early 70s lives in the home. Both are OK, she said, noting she’d spoken with them after they were evacuated to a nearby street.
The woman had been in the basement while the man was behind the house.
Miller said a section of roof on a nearby street has been covered up.
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.
A preliminary report on last year’s Snowbird crash blamed engine failure, though military investigators had yet to identify the cause of the problem.
View this post on Instagram
Ejection/Crash selfie. A StemCat always lands on his feet! It was quite peaceful being alone in the middle of a field after punching out low level, I wasn't quite sure what the procedure was at that point 🤣 I wish I still had @hasbinthe9jet texts, pretty hilarious stuff, thanks for the mutual support brother! #avgeek #pilotlife #flying #aviationdaily #aviation #ilovemyjob #formationflying #airshow #ejection #ejectionselfie #crash #crashselfie #planecrash @lvjackpilot @combat_learjet @cfsnowbirds
“Following a routine check while inverted, the pilot rolled level and applied full power to rejoin the formation,” reads the report.
“Shortly after the pilot experienced a loss of thrust. Losing altitude and unable to recover engine power, the pilot elected to eject as the aircraft was too low to attempt a safe recovery to an airport.”
The Snowbirds have performed at air shows across Canada and the U.S. for decades and are considered a key tool for raising awareness about and recruiting for the air force. Eleven aircraft are used during shows, with nine flying and two kept as spares.
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.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2020.
_ with files from Brenna Owen in Vancouver, Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton, Salmaan Farooqui in Toronto and Lee Berthiaume in Ottawa.