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A CT-114 Tutor jet belonging to the Canadian Forces Snowbirds aerial demonstration team crashed in Kamloops, B.C., on May 17.
The accident claimed the life of Capt Jennifer Casey, the team’s public affairs officer, who was riding in the jet alongside pilot Capt Richard MacDougall, who sustained serious but non life-threatening injuries.
The Snowbirds team was in B.C. as part of Operation Inspiration, their cross-country tour saluting Canadians’ efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
Sunday’s planned flypasts were cancelled due to low cloud cover and the team posted on Facebook that it had decided to reposition to Comox and would then begin making its way back to its home base at 15 Wing Moose Jaw, Sask.
“Another tragedy has hit our Canadian Armed Forces,” said Gen Jonathan Vance, Chief of the Defence Staff, in a statement released late on May 17. “The Snowbirds’ Op Inspiration brought joy to Canadians across our country. Today, we come together in their time of need. To the family of Capt Jenn Casey, we send our condolences, know that she was an inspiration to many and she will be missed. To Capt Richard MacDougall, we wish you a speedy recovery.”
The accident happened on Sunday, May 17 at 11:45 a.m. local time, according to LCol Mike French, the commanding officer of the Snowbirds’ 431 (Air Demonstration) Squadron. The Snowbird 11 jet was taking off from Kamloops Airport alongside another Tutor when it suddenly climbed away from its teammate, veered off and appeared to tumble from the sky, crashing into a residential home and sparking a structural fire.
French confirmed that both MacDougall and Casey ejected from the aircraft; but sadly, Casey did not survive.
“She absolutely loved this job,” said French in a news briefing on May 18. “And it was one of the main reasons why the Snowbirds’ Operation Inspiration had been so well received by the public. She had just received 1 Canadian Air Division Commander’s Coin in recognition of her stellar efforts, and a nomination was being drafted for a Chief of the Defence Staff commendation. Her loss is a serious blow not only to our team, but to the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Canadian Armed Forces as a whole.”
He said that MacDougall has the full support of the team and the Canadian Armed Forces as he recovers from the incident, which French called “our absolute worst nightmare.”
The crash site has been secured and a team from the military Directorate of Flight Safety (DFS) will be conducting a thorough investigation into the cause of the accident.
“They look at human factors, weather, maintenance, they interview people, they review video,” explained French. “They will do a full investigation to find out what happened with the aim of preventing this from happening in the future and mitigating those risks.” He added that in about 30 days there will be a “quick snapshot” released from the investigators that will indicate which direction they are pursuing.
He emphasized that safety is the team’s first priority and said pilots are highly trained. Each mission is briefed before takeoff.
“Our priorities are always the safety of the public, the safety of our personnel, and then the protection of our equipment and property,” said French. “In this case, all of those options evaporated prior to Capt Rich MacDougall ordering the ejection.”
Every 400 hours, the CT-114 Tutor aircraft undergo thorough inspections.
“We are dealing with basically an as-new mint condition airplane when we do that,” noted French. “Then every day, they are inspected by avionics people, aircraft structures people and safety systems people that go through the airplane and make sure it’s serviced properly. The pilot does a walk-around and there is a takeoff briefing. It’s done for every flight.”
Capt Jenn Casey was from Halifax, N.S. She joined the Canadian Armed Forces in August 2014 as a direct entry officer, before joining the Canadian Forces Snowbirds in November 2018.
The CT-114 Tutor fleet has been placed on an operational pause and Op Inspiration has been delayed indefinitely.
Here’s a video of the crash courtesy of B.C. resident Cory Pelton: