A Kamloops resident who trained to be a fighter pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force told KTW last week that a bird strike may have been responsible for the May 17 Snowbirds jet crash that killed Capt. Jennifer Casey and injured pilot Capt. Richard MacDougall.
On Monday, the RCAF released a preliminary report, confirming it is exploring a bird strike as the possible cause of the crash.
Speaking to KTW last week, Murray Todd said he believes a bird strike may have been the case, noting he heard a popping noise upon viewing videos of the aircraft’s takeoff posted to social media.
“To me, it’s either that or a mechanical failure of some sort, but mechanical failures are different in a way,” Todd said. “They kind of explode the engine, but a bird strike can just go through the engine and kill it and you’ve still got a fair amount of forward momentum in that.”
At about 11:30 a.m. on May 17, two CT-114 Tutor Snowbirds jets left Kamloops Airport, en route to their next stop on the cross-Canada Operation Inspiration tour, designed to salute health-care workers and raise the spirit of the public during the COVIID-19 pandemic.
Shortly after takeoff, Snowbird 11 gained altitude and departed its formation northward, turning left before plummeting out of the sky and crashing nose-first into a Brocklehurst neighbourhood.
Both MacDougall and Casey ejected from the aircraft while it was upright, but descending, with the nose of the plane pointed to the ground.
According to the RCAF’s report, review of footage of the accident showed a bird in very close proximity to the plane’s right engine as it was taking off.
“The investigation is focusing on environmental factors (birdstrike) as well as the performance of the escape system,” the report stated.
The possibility of a bird strike causing the accident was touched on in a recent CBC interview with former Snowbirds commander Robert Mitchell, who noticed what appears to be a small object moving near the CT-114 Tutor aircraft as it took off from the airport.
“I can’t put hand on heart and say that that is a bird, that speck, but one of the more risky areas of any aviation is after takeoff,” Mitchell said in the interview, noting birds are factors at airports.
The video he was reviewing was taken from Aviation Way. During the takeoff, a popping noise can be heard as the jets fly overhead.
The source of the pop isn’t clear, but in another video — posted online by KTW — showing the takeoff from a different angle, a popping noise can also be heard at about the same moment in time.
Todd said speaking with Capt. MacDougall will help in piecing together the cause of the crash.
“He’s going to give them a lot of stuff,” Todd said.
In his CBC interview, Mitchell said the plane’s climb is an indication something is wrong, noting it’s a common tactic learned in training to pull away from the other aircraft in formation and gain altitude, which gives a pilot time to determine his or her options and determine if there’s an alternative landing spot.
He said the higher the plane is, the safer the ejection sequence is likely to be, adding the ejection vector should be upright and not sideways.
Todd said he was puzzled by the plane gaining altitude, recalling that when he trained on T-33 jets, the advice for handling a stalled engine while close to the ground was to continue moving forward and find a safe place to glide to safety. Todd, however, noted Capt. MacDougall may have been doing exactly what he was trained to do in that situation.
Todd said he trained to be a fighter pilot on the T-33 jet at the age of 20 in 1964, but did not complete the training. He went on to obtain his private pilot’s licence and worked for 20 years as an air traffic controller in Vancouver and Victoria.
Upon ejecting the aircraft, Casey and MacDougall ended up on a Schreiner Street property — Casey in the backyard and MacDougall on the roof of the house — about six doors from the crash site at 2425 Glenview St., where flaming wreckage could be seen up against a house. The severed tail of the plane appeared to come to a rest across the street.
It’s unclear if MacDougall or Casey’s chutes opened. On video, one appears to be unfurling before they fall out of sight.