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Former journalist identified as CF Snowbirds member killed in plane crash near Kamloops

Last Updated May 18, 2020 at 5:34 pm EDT

Summary

Capt. Jennifer Casey, a public affairs officer with the Snowbirds, was killed in the crash

Capt. Richard MacDougall, the pilot of the aircraft, suffered non-life threatening injuries

Department of Defence has grounded the Snowbirds and Operation Inspiration has been delayed indefinitely

One person has died and another is badly injured after a Canadian Forces Snowbird plane crashed in a residential area of Kamloops, B.C., while on a cross-country tour meant to impart hope during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“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 Royal Canadian Air Force tweeted. “We can confirm that we have contacted all primary family members of those involved.”

The deceased team member has been identified as Captain Jenn Casey, a public affairs officer with the Snowbirds, by our affiliate radio station in Halifax, NEWS 95.7. Casey had worked as a reporter, anchor and producer at the station. According to an online biography, she joined the Air Force in 2014 and had been with the Snowbirds since 2018.

Capt. Richard MacDougall, the pilot of the aircraft, was being treated for his injuries that the Snowbirds said are not life-threatening.

In a press conference on Monday, Lieutenant Colonel Mike French,Commanding Officer of 431 (Air Demonstration) Squadron on the Canadian Forces Snowbirds, said both pilots ejected from the aircraft, but Casey unfortunately did not survive.

French said investigators will likely have a brief snapshot of the direction in which they are going in around 30 days, but added that such investigations can last up to a year.

In response to safety concerns with the Tutor jets used by the Snowbirds, French said the planes are stripped to the studs every two years or every 400 hours and rebuilt from scratch. The planes are also thoroughly inspected before every flight.

He called the tragic incident a “confluence of all the worst case scenarios that became our worst nightmare.”

“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.”

The Department of Defence said the Snowbirds fleet has been placed on an operational pause and Operation Inspiration has been delayed indefinitely.

The crash sent neighbours pouring onto the street where they said debris was scattered and a house was on fire.

The Kamloops Airport said emergency crews were responding to the crash as defence officials were investigating the incident, the second crash involving the military’s famed aerobatic team in less than a year.

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 perhaps.”

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.

About an hour before the crash, a tweet from the Snowbird’s official account mentioned low cloud through the mountain passes and how this was a safety concern.

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.

“For the past two weeks, the Snowbirds have been flying across the country to lift up Canadians during these difficult times,” Trudeau said in a statement. “Every day, they represent the very best of Canada and demonstrate excellence through incredible skill and dedication.”

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.

Cory Pelton captured the incident on video.

Warning: The video below may be disturbing to some viewers.

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.

Operation Inspiration started in Nova Scotia earlier 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.

“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.

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