Canadian Forces Snowbird Captains Erik Temple, right, and Joel Wilson check out the crash scene of a Canadian Forces Snowbird plane in Kamloops, B.C., Sunday, May 17, 2020. One person has died and another is badly injured after a Canadian Forces Snowbird plane crashed in a residential area of Kamloops, B.C., while on a cross-country tour meant to impart hope during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Canadian Forces Snowbird Captains Erik Temple, right, and Joel Wilson check out the crash scene of a Canadian Forces Snowbird plane in Kamloops, B.C., Sunday, May 17, 2020. One person has died and another is badly injured after a Canadian Forces Snowbird plane crashed in a residential area of Kamloops, B.C., while on a cross-country tour meant to impart hope during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Commander calls Snowbirds crash ‘worst nightmare’ as Forces begins investigation

One service member was killed while another was seriously injured in the crash

A team of military investigators arrived in British Columbia on Monday to begin searching for answers into Sunday’s deadly Snowbird crash, which the aerobatic team’s commander described as a confluence of “worst-case scenarios, and it became our absolute worst nightmare.”

The eight-member flight investigation team was deployed from Ottawa to Kamloops, where one of the Snowbirds’s famed Tutor jets went down shortly after takeoff. The Snowbirds had been in the midst of a cross-country tour aimed at boosting morale during the COVID-19 pandemic.

One Canadian Armed Forces member, Capt. Jennifer Casey, a public affairs officer from Halifax, was killed while another, Capt. Richard MacDougall, who was piloting the aircraft, sustained serious but non-life threatening injuries.

READ MORE: One dead in Canadian Forces Snowbirds plane crash in Kamloops

During a news conference at 15 Wing Moose Jaw in Saskatchewan, where the Snowbirds are based, team commander Lt.-Col. Mike French said the cross-country tour known as Operation Inspiration has been suspended while the team’s Tutor jets are subject to an “operational pause.”

French would not speculate on the cause of the crash, but insisted that safety is the Snowbirds’ “No. 1 priority.” He added that each aircraft is torn down and rebuilt about every two years and subject to regular maintenance and checks prior to every flight.

“Our priorities are always the safety of the public, the safety of our personnel and then the protection of our equipment and property,” he said, adding what happened Sunday was “the confluence of all those worst-case scenarios and it became our absolute worst nightmare.”

READ MORE: B.C. pilots organize memorial flight to honour Snowbirds after fatal crash

The crash was actually the second for the Snowbirds since October and the second involving a Royal Canadian Air Force aircraft in as many months after a Cyclone helicopter went down in the Ionian Sea on April 29, killing all six people on board.

The Cyclone’s voice and flight-data recorders have been recovered, but the fuselage is under about 3,000 metres of water. Defence officials will update Canadians on efforts to recover the helicopter wreckage during a technical briefing in Ottawa on Tuesday.

Unlike the Cyclone crash, which was only witnessed by crew from the Halifax-class frigate HMCS Fredericton, Canadians across the country have been able to watch Sunday’s Snowbird crash thanks to videos shot by various bystanders at the Kamloops Airport.

Even as investigators were hitting the ground in Kamloops Monday, retired Air Force officers said it appears based on the videos that the Tutor jet’s engine lost power shortly after taking off. They point to the plane climbing into the air before plummeting to the ground as evidence.

The aircraft crashed into a residential neighbourhood in Kamloops. Nobody on the ground was injured.

“Certainly it’s an engine loss,” said retired chief of the defence staff Tom Lawson, who spent most of his military career flying fighter jets.

“You trade off your speed — whatever little bit you were able to build up — for altitude. It’s not so you can think of what to do next. It’s so you can eject at a safe altitude. It’s called zoom and boom.”

Retired air force commander Andre Deschamps echoed that assessment, saying videos of the incident suggest the Tutor experienced an engine compressor stall. Such stalls are the result of airflow into an plane’s engine being disrupted, causing dramatic power loss.

“It’s certainly a power loss,” said Deschamps, also a former fighter pilot. “You could even hear the bang on one of the videos. The guy was close enough and you heard the airplane go by and you heard the compressor stall. As soon as I heard that, I said: ‘Yeah, compressor stall.’”

The question now appears to be what caused the compressor stall, including whether it was a mechanical failure or a bird being sucked into the Tutor’s engine. Bird strikes, as they are called, have caused compressor stalls on many other aircraft that have crashed.

Bird strikes are an unfortunate occurrence, but where there is perhaps more concern than normal is that engine-power loss has also been blamed for the crash of a Snowbird in the U.S. state of Georgia last October. The exact cause remains under investigation.

While Lawson was hopeful the two Snowbird crashes represented simply a rash of bad luck for the team, Deschamps said investigators will need to ensure there is not a systemic problem within the Tutor fleet that could cause other crashes.

There have been plans to replace the 57-year-old Tutors for years. Obtained as a training aircraft in 1963, they were supposed to be retired in 2010. A total of seven pilots and two passengers have been killed and several aircraft have been lost over the course of the Snowbirds’ history.

READ MORE: Retired defence chief defends Snowbirds’ ‘fantastic’ Tutor jets

Lawson says the plan was to replace them as part of a larger overhaul of the air force’s training fleet. The Defence Department in 2015 pegged the cost of replacing the Tutors at between $500 million and $1.5 billion.

Stephen Harper’s Conservative government instead extended their lives to 2020 as it mulled which new fighter aircraft to buy to replace the CF-18s. The Trudeau Liberals planned to do the same to 2030, setting aside up to $100 million to upgrade their avionics and other systems.

Yet while Lawson, Deschamps and retired air force commander Mike Hood expressed frustration over the failure of successive governments to obtain a new jet trainer, they were united in praising the Tutor despite its age and uncertainty around the cause of the two recent crashes.

That is because the Air Force has piles of spare parts for the Tutors and the aircraft are well built for their job and well maintained by military technicians.

“Is it an old aircraft? Of course it is,” said Hood.

“Can it still do the same Snowbirds’ display it did in 1970 when the Snowbirds started? Yes it can. Can it do safely? Yes. Do we lose that type of aircraft to accidents and incidents along the way? You can see the record of them. And what we do inherently has an element of danger to it.”

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Military

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Nov. 20 WestJet flight 3171 has been identified by the BC Centre for Disease Control with a COVID case aboard. (Black Press file photo)
Fifth COVID-19 exposure reported on flight at Comox airport

Another exposure risk from flight originating in Calgary

The School District 70 administration office in Port Alberni. AV NEWS FILE PHOTO
Four Alberni schools reporting COVID-19 exposures

Exposures occurred between Nov. 19 and Nov. 25 depending on the school

The Royal Canadian Legion Branch 160 Comox, B.C. Poppy Chairman, Kent Guilford presenting cheques to the following organizations in support of their venues: (top left) The Sea Cadet Corps who assisted in last year’s Poppy campaign. (Top right) CFB Comox, Military Family Resource Center, Kim Hetherington, executive director MFRC. Bottom, The Views at St Joseph’s, Jessica Aldred, Health Care Foundation, Michael Aikins, senior operations leader. We wish to Thank All those who supported last year’s Poppy Campaign and we hope we will have your continued support this year. Thank you all.
Comox Valley gives back

Spotlight on some of the groups, businesses and individuals who make the Comox Valley great

Union Bay voters chose a new direction Saturday. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Union Bay voters opt for governance change

More than seventy per cent support dissolving UBID to roll services into regional district

A bus shelter in White Rock is emblazoned with an ad from B.C.’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. (Black Press Media files)
VIDEO: ‘Am I racist?’ campaign asks British Columbians to confront their unconscious biases

Signs asking British Columbians to think about racial injustice have been put up across the province

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond speaks to a reporter in Vancouver on November 13, 2015. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
No evidence that B.C. ER staff played blood alcohol level game, but Indigenous racism widespread

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond releases findings of independent investigation

Christmas lights are something that people can do to celebrate the season that are not impacted by COVID-19. (file photo)
Editorial: Holidays will be different this year

This Christmas is going to be very different for our communities on… Continue reading

(Dave Landine/Facebook)
VIDEO: Dashcam captures head-on crash between snowplow and truck on northern B.C. highway

Driver posted to social media that he walked away largely unscathed

Menno Place. (Google Street View image.)
B.C. care home looks to hire residents’ family members amid COVID-19-related staff shortage

Family would get paid as temporary workers, while having chance to see loved ones while wearing PPE

B.C. Finance Minister Carole James and Premier John Horgan announce $5 billion emergency fund for COVID-19 unemployment and other relief, B.C. legislature, March 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
Carole James stays on to advise B.C. Premier John Horgan

Retired finance minister to earn a dollar a year

Langley RCMP issued a $2,300 fine to the Riverside Calvary church in Langley in the 9600 block of 201 Street for holding an in-person service on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020, despite a provincial COVID-19 related ban (Dan Ferguson/Black Press Media)
Langley church fined for holding in-person Sunday service

Calvary church was fined $2,300 for defying provincial order

Most Read