Snowbirds tragedy hits Comox Valley hard

Island military community mourning death of Capt. Jenn Casey

Shock waves were felt throughout the Comox Valley Sunday, when news broke of the fatal Canadian Forces Snowbirds crash in Kamloops.

Moments after taking off from the Kamloops Airport, the CT-114 Tutor piloted by Capt. Richard MacDougall, with Capt. Jenn Casey aboard, veered skyward before nose-diving to the ground.

MacDougall and Casey ejected from the plane just before impact. MacDougall suffered serious injuries. Casey died.

RELATED: One dead, one injured in Snowbirds crash

The team was heading to Comox, from where it was to begin its trip back to its home base in Moose Jaw, Sask.

The team was on the tail end of its cross-country flight, dubbed Operation Inspiration – a salute to Canadians who are doing their part to fight the spread of COVID-19.

As explained in a post published on their Facebook page Sunday morning, Sunday’s weather forced the postponement of the Interior B.C. leg of the nationwide salute.

“OKANAGAN: We know some areas are starting to clear up, however transit through some of the mountain passes have very low cloud cover which is unsafe for flying 9 jets. We are going to pre-position to Comox to start working our way east. Don’t worry, the longer term forecast looks better and we plan to be back on our way home to Moose Jaw! Keep watching our page for updates and enjoy your Sunday!”

Col. Dany Poitras, Wing Commander at Comox 19 Wing, addressed the tragedy on behalf of the local military community.

“All of us at 19 Wing, Comox are profoundly saddened by the loss of Captain Jennifer Casey in an aircraft accident at Kamloops, British Columbia on 17 May 2020,” he said in a statement. “As you know, there is a special relationship with the Comox Valley and 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, or as you may know them, the Snowbirds. Every year the members of our community look forward to the Snowbirds training at Comox. Each spring the team takes up residence here, and the distinctive red and white jets can be seen in the skies near 19 Wing. Those who attended the final practice last year enjoyed Captain Casey’s energetic and professional voice calling the aerobatic manoeuvres.

“As we grieve together, the Defence Team members of 19 Wing, Comox offer our condolences and support to Captain Casey’s family, colleagues and friends. We also have Captain Richard MacDougall in our thoughts and wish him a speedy recovery. I thank the Comox Valley community for their support in this difficult time.”

•••

Casey was well known to local media.

As the public affairs officer for the CFB Snowbirds, it was her duty to arrange all pilot interviews, suggest features, and keep the public informed on important dates regarding the aerobatics team.

According to her Royal Canadian Air Forces biography, Casey joined the Canadian Armed Forces in August 2014 as a direct entry officer. Prior to joining she spent several years working in broadcast radio as a reporter, anchor and producer in Halifax, NS (her hometown) and Belleville, Ont.

Her first assignment as a public affairs officer was at 8 Wing Trenton, the Royal Canadian Air Force’s home of air mobility. She spent the 2018 season with the CF-18 Demo Team, travelling North America and the United Kingdom with the NORAD 60 jet. Captain Casey joined the Canadian Forces Snowbirds in November 2018.

Record reporter Erin Haluschak handles the majority of the Snowbirds coverage during their annual spring training stints in the Comox Valley. She has fond memories of Casey.

“During the few weeks a year the team holds their annual training in Comox, she was always incredibly helpful and we exchanged many media stories,” Haluschak tweeted Sunday.

When asked about the Snowbirds’ special connection to the area, Comox Mayor Russ Arnott echoed the sentiments of an entire community.

“The Town of Comox is very proud of its relationship with CFB Comox and its annual hosting of the Snowbirds,” he said. “Like many in the Valley, I was looking forward to seeing the Snowbirds over the long weekend and was saddened to hear of the crash. Our condolences and thoughts are with the families of Capt. Casey and Capt. MacDougall, and the entire Snowbirds team.”



terry.farrell@blackpress.ca

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