Canadian Forces Snowbird Plane Crashes in BC

May 17, 2020 Updated: May 17, 2020

KAMLOOPS, B.C.—A Canadian Forces Snowbirds plane crashed in a residential area of Kamloops, B.C., on Sunday, sending neighbours pouring onto the street where they said debris was scattered and a house was on fire.

The Kamloops Airport said emergency crews were responding to the crash as defence officials were scrambling for details about the incident, the second crash involving the military’s famed aerobatic team in less than a year.

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix said one person was in hospital after paramedics and air ambulances responded to the crash.

Kenny Hinds, who lives in a house seven doors down from the crash site, said it looked like the living room of the house where the crash occurred was on fire.

“I just started running down the street. And I got there maybe a minute after it crashed and there was a couple of residents that had their hoses out and they were trying to put the flames out because it hit a house,” he said. “It looked like most of it landed in the front yard, but maybe a wing or something went through the roof perhaps.”

“So there was a bunch of people running around trying to see if we could get into the house to see if anybody’s OK.”

Sunday’s crash occurred the same day the Snowbirds were scheduled to make a trip from Kamloops to Kelowna as part of Operation Inspiration, a cross−country tour aimed at boosting the morale of Canadians struggling with the COVID−19 pandemic.

Video posted to Twitter by 610 AM in Kamloops appears to show two Snowbirds taking off from what is believed to have been Kamloops Airport.

One of the aircraft subsequently climbed into the sky before rolling over and plunging to the ground. The video appears to show at least one person ejecting from the plane before it disappears behind a stand of trees and an explosion is heard.

“A Canadian Forces Snowbirds aircraft has crashed in the vicinity of Kamloops, B.C.,” the Department of National Defence said in a statement.

“This is a developing situation. Our number one priority at this time is determining the status of our personnel, the community and supporting emergency personnel. When appropriate, more information will be made available.”

Marni Capostinsky said she lives across the street from the crash site and was out on the deck when she heard the plane getting closer.

“We ran out under the cover to look and saw something black coming towards us, everyone hit the deck it was so loud,” she said.

Capostinsky said there were large flames flaring on and off and a strong toxic smell filled the air.

She said her son immediately ran out with a hose and neighbours tried to help before first responders arrived.

“It was really scary but good to see everyone trying to come together,” Capostinsky said.

Hinds had been watching the aircraft after hearing them take off, and said he was able to see the crash.

“I heard ’bang, bang,’ and just as I looked before it left my view from the house beside me, I saw the Snowbird going straight down,” he said. “I saw what looked like a parachute about, say, 20 feet over the house, and it disappeared from sight, and the parachute hadn’t fully deployed yet — it was still sort of straight up and down.”

Operation Inspiration started in Nova Scotia earlier this month and features the team’s signature nine−jet formation.

Sunday’s crash follows the downing of another Snowbird in the U.S. state of Georgia last October, where the team was scheduled to perform in an air show.

Capt. Kevin Domon−Grenier sustained minor injuries when he ejected from the plane, which crashed into a farmer’s field. No one else was hurt.

A preliminary report on last year’s Snowbird crash blamed engine failure, though military investigators had yet to identify the cause of the problem.

“Following a routine check while inverted, the pilot rolled level and applied full power to rejoin the formation,” reads the report.

“Shortly after the pilot experienced a loss of thrust. Losing altitude and unable to recover engine power, the pilot elected to eject as the aircraft was too low to attempt a safe recovery to an airport.”

The Snowbirds have performed at air shows across Canada and the U.S. for decades and are considered a key tool for raising awareness about — and recruiting for — the air force. Eleven aircraft are used during shows, with nine flying and two kept as spares.

The air force obtained its Tutor jets in 1963 and has used them in air demonstrations since 1971. Prior to Sunday’s crash, seven pilots and one passenger had been killed and several aircraft had been lost over the course of the Snowbirds’ history.