The Canadian Forces Snowbirds put on an aerial dance over Semiahmoo Bay. (Black Press Media files)

To shut down Snowbirds team after deadly crash would be ‘tragic:’ commander

The home base of the Snowbirds is in Moose Jaw, Sask.

Lt.-Col. Mike French and Capt. Jennifer Casey were soaring through the air, trying to bring hope to an anxious and fearful country with each dip and dive of their airplane.

French, commander of the Snowbirds — the official aerobatic team of the Royal Canadian Air Force — says he and Casey belted out Tragically Hip songs as they flew through the air, performing well-practised manoeuvres with the tight-knit team just last week.

Casey was an integral part of creating the team’s Operation Inspiration tour for a country otherwise gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic, French says. And he still can’t believe it ended with her death.

“It’s been extremely difficult for everyone on the team,” French told The Canadian Press. “You want to go into a period of seclusion and self-reflection.”

Casey, a 35-year-old military public affairs officer, died Sunday after ejecting from a Snowbirds jet before it went down in a residential area of Kamloops, B.C. The pilot, Capt. Richard MacDougall, survived.

It was the eighth fatal crash in the 50-year history of the Snowbirds. The last was in 2008. In 2019, a Snowbirds jet crashed in the United States but the pilot safely ejected.

A team of military investigators is trying to determine the cause of Sunday’s crash but it has left many questioning whether it’s time to ground the team and its aging fleet.

“For me, to imagine a Canada Day without the Snowbirds flying over the Peace Tower is just not possible,” French says.

“I’ve grown up with the Snowbirds my whole life. And for me to picture them not being around would be tragic.”

ALSO READ: Family mourns Capt. Jennifer Casey after fatal Snowbirds crash

The home base of the Snowbirds is in Moose Jaw, Sask., where one of the team’s retired planes floats on a pedestal next to a giant statue of the city’s mascot, Mac the Moose.

The site has become a makeshift memorial to Casey, where people have left flowers. Residents are also organizing upcoming events to honour the team.

The reputation of the Snowbirds has grown through performances at air shows across North America. The red, white and blue planes swirl through the sky in stunning formations, appearing unbelievably close to each other.

Flying above stadiums before Grey Cup games, racing through the sky during national ceremonies and stopping at local air shows from coast to coast has made the team a national symbol.

The Canadair CT-114 Tutor has a unique mix of engine control, balance and stability that gives it exceptional manoeuvrability, and is “pure bliss,” French says.

The plane, which was used by the Forces as a jet trainer until 2000, is largely out of use in the aviation world. The jets were to be retired in 2010, but that was later extended to 2020.

French says it’s hard to explain the impact the Snowbirds have on Canada.

The team is in a way an inspiration program, he says, encouraging children who see the planes rip through the sky to chase their own dreams.

French was one of those kids who rushed to see air shows in Abbotsford, B.C., and waited around to get autographs from pilots. It led him into the military, where he became a F-18 fighter pilot and a Snowbirds trainer.

He’s in his third year as commanding officer of the Snowbirds. Every member is a highly-trained Forces member who competed for their position, French says.

Most of the year, team members spend all their time together practising routines, then touring across the country. They are more than colleagues, French says. They are family.

It also takes a very dedicated person who truly believes in the team’s mission to become a Snowbird, French says. And Casey fit in immediately.

The former journalist joined the military as a direct entry officer in 2014. She worked with the CF-18 demo team before joining the Snowbirds in 2018.

French says the first time Casey went up in the air with the Snowbirds, it was clear she was the right fit for the team.

She was always three steps ahead of what anybody needed. She was creative, kind and hardworking.

“She was one of those people that you just love working with. She raised everybody’s game,” French says.

“Casey was one of the main reasons that Operation Inspiration was being perceived so well by Canadians. It was her drive and her determination to get us out there.”

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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

Canadian Armed Forces

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

Just Posted

Morning Start: Women can give birth after they die

Your morning start for Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020

COVID-19 outbreak at Oliver farm declared over

There continues to be other community exposure events in the Interior Health region

Penticton Community Centre prepares for reopening

The community centre will open Aug. 13 with many precautions in place

Penticton Vees seeking billet families for the upcoming season

Many life-long bonds have been formed between players and billet families, says assistant coach

Morning Start: The Exorcist film set was haunted

Your morning start for Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020

The Okanagan’s first Arabic store opens in Kelowna

The store is located in Kelowna’s Landmark District

Deaths feared after train derails amid storms in Scotland

Stonehaven is on the line for passenger trains linking Aberdeen with the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow

DFO says 5 aggrieved B.C First Nations were consulted on fisheries plan

Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations calls response ‘a sham,’ adding DFO never incorporates their views

Lower Mainland woman gives birth on in-laws’ driveway

Frédérique Gagnon new son is appropriately named after Norse trickster god

Man, 54, charged in connection with fatal attack of Red Deer doctor

Doctor was killed in his walk-in clinic on Monday

UPDATE: Two dead after fishing boat sinks off southern Vancouver Island

Shawnigan Lake-registered Arctic Fox II went down off Cape Flattery, west of Victoria

Landlord takes front door, windows after single B.C. mom late with rent

Maple Ridge mom gets help from community generosity and government

VIDEO: Revelstoke rallies to save snared eagle

Local climber scales tree to save the raptor

Most Read