One member of the Canadian Forces Snowbirds flight crew was killed and another seriously injured on Sunday in a crash that saw one of the famous squadron’s jets explode before landing on a Kamloops house.
The incident took place seconds after a pair of Snowbirds aircraft took off from Kamloops Airport at about 11:45 a.m. Dozens of versions of video of the crash and its aftermath circulated on social media in the hours that followed.
The videos show one of the planes flying vertically before a pilot is ejected, followed by an airborne explosion and the subsequent crash. Some clips show a second occupant of the plane ejecting shortly before impact.
Capt. Jenn Casey, the squadron’s public affairs officer, died at the scene of the crash.
Dana Hings, a retired nurse visiting Kamloops from the Lower Mainland, said she rushed to offer first aid after hearing the crash nearby.
“I saw a deceased female with catastrophic injuries,” Hings told KTW. “It looked like she hit a tree. It’s insane. It’s not supposed to happen.”
In a statement on Sunday evening, the Royal Canadian Air Force confirmed one squadron member died in the crash and another suffered serious injuries.
The injured pilot landed on the roof of 868 Schreiner St., about two blocks east of the airport. His parachute could be seen wrapped around the home’s chimney. Kamloops Fire Rescue crews used a ladder truck to get him down and into an ambulance.
The airplane struck a home at 2454 Glenview Ave., around the corner and six doors down from the Schriener Street house. A witness told KTW the home’s two elderly occupants made it out safely.
Cory Pelton said he rushed to the site of the crash after watching the Snowbirds take off from Aviation Way, adjacent to the airport and just west of Glenview Avenue.
“You could smell raw fuel everywhere,” he said, noting the aircraft struck the home’s attached garage. “I ran into the backyard and, just as I jumped over the back fence, I saw the elderly couple coming out. I asked if there was anyone else in there or any pets and they said no, that’s it.”
Firefighters doused the blaze, but the home suffered extensive damage.
Kamloops Fire Rescue Chief Mike Adams said the damage spans a number of properties.
“There was a large amount of debris in about a three-home proximity,” he said during a press conference on Sunday at Kamloops City Hall. “The one home was damaged by fire.”
Calling the crash “a very startling and shocking incident,” Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian praised Brocklehurst residents for their poise and calm on Sunday.
“This has really shaken that neighbourhood,” he said. “This was a tragic scene that had a huge response from emergency vehicles, not something you’d expect in the middle of May.”
The Snowbirds were nearing the end of a cross-Canada trip called Operation Inspiration, aimed at lifting the spirits of Canadians during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The squadron flew over Kamloops on Saturday and was slated to head to the Okanagan on Sunday, but cloudy skies forced the team to change course for Vancouver Island.
Brocklehurst resident Doug Barclay was one of hundreds of neighbours congregating on Schriener Street following the crash, wondering what exactly went wrong.
Barclay said he was working in his yard when he heard the Snowbirds taking off.
“I wanted to watch them,” he said, noting he saw trouble within seconds.
“It starts down what I thought was a roll. It was about 100 feet off the ground. They were that far off the ground. Then the canopy goes off, the ejector seat comes out, then there was an explosion, a fire shot out. A big bang. Then the plane went down. I just started praying and I texted by Bible study group. I said, ‘Pray for everybody.’ It was awful.”
Words of condolences were offered from across Canada.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took to Twitter to say his “thoughts are with the brave members” of the RCAF. Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan tweeted thanks to Kamloops first responders dealing with the aftermath of the crash.
Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Cathy McLeod also issued her condolences on Twitter, calling the crash “a terrible tragedy.”
RCAF investigators were expected to arrive in Kamloops late Sunday to begin an investigation into the wreck.
Christian said the Snowbirds remain parked at Kamloops Airport for the foreseeable future.
“The 'Birds are grounded here in Kamloops and we have extended everything the City of Kamloops can do to be of service,” he said.