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

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

Volunteers sort food donations during the Agassiz Fire Department’s food drive on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. (Agassiz Fire Department/Facebook)
VIDEO: Agassiz Fire Department to host COVID-safe food drive

This year’s drive looks a little different

With news that Santa won’t be coming to Cottonwood Centre this year, April Blais wanted to set up a photo op with the jolly old elf in her front yard. (Submitted photo)
Chilliwack family blown away by response to Christmas light display

The Blais family has decked out their yard with holiday decor, collecting food bank donations

Abbotsford residents gather in the Clearbrook area on Monday to demonstrate against what they say is unfairt treatment by the Indian government to farmers in the Punjab region of that country. (Maan Sidhu photo)
Abbotsford residents gather to protest unfair treatment of India farmers

Locals believe new bills will devastate small farms, demand farmers be allowed to protest peacefully

The paraglider pilot, while attempting to free himself, dropped 30 feet and sustained serious injuries as Kent-Harrison Search and Rescue members worked quickly to extract him from the trees. They were able to get him to a waiting ambulance at the end of a nearby forest service road. (Contributed Photo/Dave Harder)
UPDATE: Rescued paraglider being treated for non-life threatening injuries

Pilot tried to self-rescue but sustained serious injuries in a 30-foot fall

A B.C. Ambulance Service paramedic wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 moves a stretcher outside an ambulance at Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest weekend of COVID-19 pandemic with 46 deaths; more than 2,300 cases

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides COVID-19 update

A family emerged with a purchase at the Tannenbaum Tree Farm at 5398 252 St in Aldergrove on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 (Dan Ferguson/Langley Advance Times)
Christmas tree season is off to an early start

People are ‘bored’ with staying home due to COVID-19 and want to decorate early, farm owner believes

A heavy police presence was on scene on Dec. 28, 2017 following the shooting death on Bates Road in Abbotsford of Alexander Blanarou, 24, of Surrey. (Abbotsford News file photo)
Three men charged with Abbotsford shooting death of Surrey man

Alexander Blanarou, 24, was killed in a rural area on Dec. 28, 2017

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C. researchers launch study to test kids, young adults for COVID-19 antibodies

Kids and youth can often be asymptomatic carriers of the novel coronavirus

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

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

A convoy of seven pickup trucks, six of which were hauling boats, makes its way around the Chilliwack Law Courts on Dec. 1, 2020. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
First court date for Fraser River anglers ticketed during demonstration fishery

Convoy of trucks circled the courthouse in downtown Chilliwack Tuesday honking their support

A sign is seen this past summer outside the Yunesit’in Government office west of Williams Lake reminding visitors and members to stay safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
B.C. First Nation leaders await privacy commissioner decision on COVID-19 information

Release of life-saving data cannot wait, says coalition of First Nations

Most Read