A Canadian Forces Snowbirds jet crashed on May 17 shortly after taking off from Kamloops Airport in British Columbia. The accident killed Captain Jenn Casey, a public affairs officer with the Snowbirds, and injured pilot Captain Richard MacDougall. The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) reported MacDougall’s injuries are serious but not considered life threatening.
The airplane, a CT-114 Tutor originally procured in the mid-1960s to train student pilots and modified for the needs of the Snowbirds, crashed into a front yard and home in a residential area of Kamloops just before noon Pacific Time. MacDougall, according to pictures and eyewitness accounts obtained by the CBC, ejected from the aircraft and landed with a parachute on the roof of another nearby home. The CBC later reported both MacDougall and Casey ejected from the aircraft, from a horizontal or similarly unfavourable ejection position.
From Halifax, Nova Scotia, Captain Casey joined the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) in August 2014 as a direct entry officer. She previously spent several years working in broadcast radio as a reporter, anchor and producer in both Halifax and Belleville, Ontario. Her first CAF assignment as a public affairs officer was at 8 Wing Trenton, described as the RCAF’s home of air mobility.
Casey spent the 2018 season with the CF-18 Demo Team, travelling across North America and the United Kingdom with the NORAD 60 jet. She then joined the Canadian Forces Snowbirds in November 2018.
During the May 17 accident, the Snowbirds were taking part in a mission called Operation INSPIRATION, which began on the first weekend of May, flying across the country from east to west to lift the spirits of Canadians and to help recognize those doing their part to fight the spread of COVID-19. The mission was announced by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau back on April 29 during his daily briefings about the pandemic.
The 431 Squadron’s Snowbirds, based out of 15 Wing Moose Jaw, had paused their operations back on March 20 because of COVID-19. The Snowbirds typically fly in a nine-aircraft formation for their shows, with MacDougal noted on the RCAF’s website as one of its coordinators and pilots for Snowbird 11. The CT-114 Tutor fleet has now been placed on an operational pause and Operation INSPIRATION has been delayed indefinitely.
Lieutenant General Al Meinzinger, Commander of the RCAF, released a statement about the Snowbirds accident (shared in part through Twitter) and another tragic loss suffered by the RCAF and CAF, following the April 29 crash of a CH-148 Cyclone helicopter, which resulted in six military members losing their lives, during training exercises of Operation REASSURANCE.
The RCAF has suffered another tragic loss of a dedicated member of the RCAF team. We are deeply saddened and grieve alongside Jenn’s family and friends. Our thoughts are also with the loved ones of Captain MacDougall. We hope for a swift recovery from his injuries. – Comd RCAF pic.twitter.com/8U41bdVqcU
— Royal Canadian Air Force (@RCAF_ARC) May 18, 2020
Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of National Defence, released the following statement about the fatal Snowbirds accident: “I was deeply saddened to learn of the loss of one of our Canadian Armed Forces members in a tragic incident involving one of our Snowbirds’ aircraft in Kamloops, British Columbia. I am sending my sincerest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Captain Jenn Casey. I am also wishing a rapid and complete recovery for Captain Richard MacDougall.
“Canadians look at the Snowbirds as a source of joy and an exhibition of the incredible feats that our people in uniform are capable of. Operation INSPIRATION was intended to lift the spirit of Canadians at this difficult time and the Snowbirds accomplished their mission. I know that all Canadians grieve this tragic loss.”