Wings Magazine

Report findings on 2008 Snowbird Crash

July 9, 2010, Moose Jaw, Sask. - A report into a Snowbird crash that killed a pilot and military photographer lays most of the blame on the pilot for flying too close to the ground.

July 9, 2010  By The Canadian Press

The flight safety report into the October 2008 crash near the aerobatic team's home base in Moose Jaw, Sask., says the pilot, Capt. Bryan Mitchell, didn't realize that his aircraft had "descended dangerously low.''
Major Kevin Roberts, the investigator in charge, says that's likely because Mitchell's attention was fixated on the three other aircraft in the formation.
"I strongly believe based on the evidence I have available, that they never saw the ground coming,'' Roberts said in a phone interview.
"The witnesses never saw the airplane try and evade the ground or manoeuvre at the last second. There was no ejection attempted.''
The plane was being used in a photo-chase role, meaning it was following other Snowbirds to take pictures. It was above and to the right of the formation so that the photographer, Sgt. Charles
Senecal, could take pictures.
The three other planes then began a gentle, banked turn to the right towards Mitchell's plane. Roberts says "for reasons that we'll never know,'' Mitchell decided to turn with the formation, but to keep them in sight — and not hit the other planes — he had to descend as he went around the turn.
"Unfortunately, what the evidence says to us is that he became focused on that main formation to the extent that he really forgot if you will, lost situational awareness with the ground, and forgot how close he was to the ground,'' said Roberts.
Roberts said Mitchell would have been looking up, over his left shoulder at the formation at the time.
"When he's looking there, the ground that you would see out the front of the airplane is not in his field of view so he would not know it's about to happen.''
The right wing hit the ground; the aircraft tumbled and broke apart.
The report says the impact forces and post-impact explosion were such that the crash was not survivable. Mitchell and Senecal were killed instantly.
Mitchell was an experienced and extremely capable pilot, said Roberts. But he wasn't trained on how to fly in the photo-chase role, had no experience in fluid manoeuvring around a formation at
low altitude and had not received any formal low-level awareness training.
However, the report also says those planning the mission miscalculated the danger.
"Fluid manoeuvring around a formation at low altitude is potentially a high-risk activity and typically involves specialized training,'' said the report.
"These gaps were not fully considered by those planning and briefing the mission and were overshadowed by his overall high experience level and reputation as a very capable pilot.
Consequently, the inherent risk in this aspect of the mission was underestimated.''


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