Laying a wreath below the CF-5 plane perched permanently on the roundabout at Kamloops Airport flooded Daniel Martin with emotions.
“It’s never easy to lose a brother or sister at arms,” said Martin, president of Branch 52 of the Royal Canadian Legion. “I was struggling to hold it together.”
The Legion and 886 Wing (Overlander) RCAF Association were joined by a number of invited groups at the roundabout on Thursday morning for a ceremony honouring Capt. Jennifer Casey, who died on May 17 when the Snowbirds jet she was in crashed in Brocklehurst. Casey and pilot Capt. Richard. MacDougall ejected from the aircraft shortly after takeoff. The jet crashed onto Glenview Avenue, while Casey and MacDougall landed on property on nearby Schreiner Street. MacDougall was injured and. is recovering in Royal Inland Hospital Casey died at the scene.
The Snowbirds squadron was in Kamloops on its cross-country tour, Operation Inspiration, mean to salute frontline health-care workers and raise the spirits of Canadians dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Martin said it was important to host a ceremony as Kamloops was the site of the crash and because the air force is a big part of the community, noting the city’s ties to 419 Moose Squadron in Cold Lake, Alta., and the 886 Wing.
Martin said he hopes people who took in the ceremony, either online or in-person, take pause, remember Casey and that the Snowbird’s task was to invoke joy in the face of the pandemic. He also asked people keep in their thoughts MacDougall.
CLICK HERE TO VIEW PHOTO GALLERY OF SCENES FROM THE CEREMONY
Amedeo Vecchio, commanding officer of Kamloops’ Rocky Mountain Rangers, said the ceremony was moving.
“Just looking at the citizens as I gazed around, people genuinely care,” Vecchio said.
While people were asked to watch a live stream of the ceremony on Facebook so as to avoid creating a mass gathering, a small number of members of the public attended the ceremony, all while standing back from the roundabout to maintain physical- distancing protocols.
Kamloops resident Sheryl Straza was among those who attended the ceremony.
Straza said the ceremony was emotional and, even though she didn’t know Casey, she said she felt a sense of duty as a Canadian citizen to attend.
The Facebook broadcast attracted some 1,800 viewers from all over the world, including a few shoutouts from Montreal, Hamilton, Moose Jaw, Toronto — and a bunch from Kamloops. Some members of the U.S. armed forces were also watching.
Lt. Alexandra Hejduk, public affairs officer for 19 Wing Comox, said Thursday’s ceremony mostly involved locals, but noted Casey’s family was made aware of the broadcast.
During the ceremony, Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian said Kamloops residents are “still in shock over the cruel irony of Operation Inspiration,” are processing the tragedy, send their sympathies to Capt. Casey’s family and stand with the people of Nova Scotia — Casey’s home province.
“And to the Snowbird family, the inspiration is not lost. Thank you for your service,” Christian said.
Christian also vowed to create a memorial to Casey and the Snowbirds in Kamloops at a suitable time.
The ceremony involved a moment of silence and the laying of wreaths, as well as a few words from other speakers, including submitted statements from Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Cathy McLeod and Kamloops MLAs Peter Milobar and Todd Stone, who were not in attendance due to COVID-19 concerns.
Following the event, Straza brought flowers to a growing memorial along a chain link fence near Fulton Field — her second such visit — walking amongst a sea of flags fluttering in the wind. The memorial to Casey, lined with myriad tributes, now spans about a half-kilometre.