The military investigation into the Canadian Forces Snowbirds crash in Kamloops on Sunday that killed one member of the aerobatic squadron and left another with serious injuries could last a year, according to the team’s commanding officer.
A Snowbirds jet crashed just before noon on Sunday seconds after taking off from Kamloops Airport. The famed squadron was in the city as part of Operation Inspiration, a cross-Canada mission aimed at lifting spirits of people during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Operation Inspiration began on May 3 in Nova Scotia.
Both occupants of the jet ejected east of the airport and came down on a property in the 800-block of Schreiner Street, just south of Brocklehurst Arena. The plane landed on a house around the corner, sparking a blaze that was doused by firefighters.
No one on the ground was injured, but Capt. Jenn Casey, the Snowbirds’ public affairs officer, died at the scene. Capt. Rich MacDougall, the jet’s captain, landed on the roof of the Schreiner Street home and suffered serious, but non-life-threatening injuries.
Military investigators arrived in Kamloops on Monday morning.
“We don’t know exactly what happened and that’s why we’re carrying out this investigation,” said Lieut.-Col. Mike French, the commanding officer in charge of the Moose Jaw-based Snowbirds.
“Safety is the No. 1 priority of the Snowbirds. So yes, if you ask me if safety is a concern, it is always a concern to us. That is why we’re going through this investigation, to find out exactly what happened before we take any further steps.”
Calling the circumstances of Sunday’s crash his “absolute worst nightmare,” French said he does not know what Sunday’s crash will mean for the future of the Snowbirds.
“I can certainly tell you that the mission for the Canadian Forces Snowbirds is as Canadian ambassadors, we demonstrate the skill, professionalism and teamwork of the Canadian Armed Forces and we serve as a platform for recruiting,” he said.
“It’s a mission that I can get behind, it’s a mission I believe in and it’s a mission that I believe is important. So I certainly hope our mission will continue.”
The aircraft used by the Snowbirds, CT-114 Tutors dating back to the 1960s, were the focus of criticism following the crash that killed Casey, but French said the planes have been maintained impeccably — torn apart every other year and rebuilt entirely.
“We’re dealing with, basically, an as-new mint-condition airplane when we do that,” he said.
“Every day they’re also checked out on a B-check prior to going flying, so they’re inspected by avionics people, aircraft structures people and safety systems people that go through the airplane to make sure that it’s serviced properly. Then the pilot also does a walk-around to make sure that the airplane is safe prior to going flying.”
A former accident investigator himself, French said he expects the probe into the crash to take about 12 months.
“Typically, what you’l find out in about 30 days there will be, from the investigator, a quick snapshot into, I would say, a pathway they’re looking at, which might give you an indication of where we’re going,” he said.
“But these investigations can take up to a year to finish, sometimes even longer. So, typically, you’d look for that from your investigator as your first clue for what we’re going after.”