As devastating as last Sunday’s deadly Snowbirds crash was for the city, the country and its armed forces, many neighbours who live near where the jet came down in Brocklehurst say they know it could have been a lot worse.
Canadian Forces Snowbirds Capt. Jennifer Casey, the aerobatic team’s public affairs officer, was killed and pilot Capt. Richard MacDougall suffered serious, but non-life threatening injuries after the pair ejected from the CT-114 Tutor jet they were in seconds after it took off from Kamloops Airport.
Casey and MacDougall ended up on a Schreiner Street property — Casey in the backyard and MacDougall on the roof — while the aircraft exploded and then fell into a Glenview Avenue front yard, about six doors away from the two crew members.
JoAnn Chapman lives next to the house on Schreiner Street and was among the first people in the yard seconds after the incident.
“We try to look at the good side of it, and there’s nothing good about any of this, but the way that jet went down, it could have been a lot more catastrophic,” she told KTW, noting the Brocklehurst neighbourhood has taken a beating in recent months.
“It’s been really hard for Brock. We lost the school [Parkcrest elementary was destroyed in a fire in September 2019], then COVID changed everything for everyone and then this. It’s traumatic for everybody. It’s so hard. It’s just absolutely devastating. There are emotional scars left behind for everybody. It lasts and lingers, but there’s always hope.”
Elena Foster lives south of the Schreiner Street house and just east of the Glenview Avenue crash site. She told KTW she has had trouble sleeping since the incident, thinking about how close her family came to catastrophe.
Foster said she was working in her garden on Sunday when she heard the Snowbirds take off. A few seconds later, she heard a loud sound.
“I was opening the garbage bin and I saw two big shadows,” she said. “I saw one flew by very quick and then I looked up and saw the guy, Richard, who hopefully he’s OK, he flew past. And at the same time, a big explosion — big black smoke.”
Casey and MacDougall flew directly over Foster’s yard in their ejection seats. She said she looked up and saw MacDougall on the roof of her neighbour’s home, waving at her.
“I asked my oldest son to bring the ladder, but I couldn’t go up,” she said. “My heart stopped.”
Foster said emergency crews were on scene in what seemed like seconds.
“I still feel awful,” she said. “I couldn’t sleep for two nights. I’m just trying to do gardening to keep my mind off it. I wish I didn’t go outside that minute.”
Foster found jet fuel in her backyard. She said she has been thinking since Sunday about how events could have played out differently.
“Of course, if the plane had gone a little bit further, it could have landed on our house,” she said. “Then we wouldn’t be talking right now.”
Schreiner Street resident Chris Martz said he has been having similar thoughts.
“Not everybody lives 30 feet away from where the pilots came down,” he said. “So, you sit in the backyard and you look at the tree she [Casey] hit when she came down, you look at the planes in the sky. The wind could have been blowing another direction and the plane could have come down here. So, you sit there and you look up and you tend to think about what could have been.”
The area around the crash site was locked down almost immediately and remained so for days.
“We couldn’t get out,” Foster said, describing the investigators as very polite. “A policeman came on Sunday and said, ‘You have to stay.’ For three days it was like that. My kids went on a walk and they had to take IDs to show them they lived here.”
Schreiner Street was reopened on Wednesday.
“It does feel a little different without them being on the street anymore,” Martz said. “But I guess life has to go on. It’s more noisy, there’s more traffic. There have been a lot of lookie-loos going 40 km/h down the street, then doing a U-turn and coming back.”
On Tuesday night, a group of Brocklehurst residents decided to throw a barbecue for the investigators — an idea spearheaded by Martz.
He said the neighbours served food to about 40 investigators. They went through 54 hamburgers, 30 smokies and a large bowl of homemade potato salad.
“Everybody was so appreciative,” Martz said. “And it’s got to be so hard for them, losing one of their own.”
Chapman was among those serving up food on Tuesday.
“It was heartwarming,” she said. “We had RCMP, military. They were so appreciative of it. We had coolers full of water and pop. We were all wearing masks and gloves and being very careful.”
Chapman said the barbecue also served a purpose for those behind the grill, who enjoyed a couple cold beverages themselves once everyone was fed.
“We had fun, you know?” she said, tears in her eyes. “It’s been so tough here. The knot in your stomach is still there all the time. It’s real. We’ve been keeping ourselves busy and it starts first thing when you wake up. But that was fun.”
Chapman, who was excited to watch the Snowbirds streak across the Kamloops sky on Saturday, the day before the fatal crash, said she is worried that might have been the famed squadron’s last performance.
“This might be the end of the Snowbirds,” she said. “To me, that would be very sad. They’re our heroes. They were here to spread joy. Their whole mission was to bring light. It’s just so tragic. We have to remember it’s a tragic accident.”