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

Luke Marston works on the seawolf mask for Canucks goalie Braden Holtby. (Mike Wavrecan photo)
Stz’uminus artist Luke Marston designs new mask for Canucks goalie

The mask features artwork inspired by the Coast Salish legend of the sea wolf

Scott Saywell, Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ superintendent and CEO, has seen his contract renewed for four years, the district announced Wednesday. (SD68 YouTube screenshot)
Ladysmith school district renews superintendent’s contract for four years

‘Singing superintendent’ Scott Saywell under contract through 2024-25 school year

Emergency services were on scene at 1st Avenue and Warren Street after a skateboarder was struck by a vehicle. (Submitted photo)
Skateboarder ‘bumped’ by vehicle on 1st Avenue

Emergency services personnel say the skateboarder is uninjured

Parents Robin Ringer and Wyatt Gilmore with the No. 1 baby of 2021 in the Cowichan Valley. They have yet to decide on a name for her. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Chemainus couple excited about having the New Year’s baby for the Cowichan Valley

Recent arrivals from Fort Nelson celebrate their girl coming into the world on Jan. 7

Regional District of Nanaimo’s transit select committee is expected to vote on a recommendation that could see busing between Nanaimo and the Cowichan Valley. (News Bulletin file)
Regional District of Nanaimo staff recommending bus route to Cowichan Valley

More than 1,900 survey respondents expressed support for inter-regional transit, notes RDN report

Justin Kripps of Summerland and his team have competed in Olympic action and World Cup competitions in bobsleigh. (Jason Ransom-Canadian Olympic Comittee).
QUIZ: Are you ready for some winter sports?

It’s cold outside, but there are plenty of recreation opportunities in the winter months

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will harm struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

B.C. government would have to show evidence a travel ban is necessary

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Standardized foundation skills assessment tests in B.C. schools will be going ahead later than usual, from Feb. 16 to March 12 for students in Grades 4 and 7. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. teachers say COVID-affected school year perfect time to end standardized tests

Foundational skills testing of Grade 4 and 7 students planned for February ad March

Sooke’s Jim Bottomley is among a handful of futurists based in Canada. “I want to help people understand the future of humanity.” (Aaron Guillen - Sooke News Mirror)
No crystal ball: B.C. man reveals how he makes his living predicting the future

63-year-old has worked analytical magic for politicians, car brands, and cosmetic companies

Terry David Mulligan. (Submitted photo)
Podcast: Interview with longtime actor/broadcaster and B.C. resident Terry David Mulligan

Podcast: Talk includes TDM’s RCMP career, radio, TV, wine, Janis Joplin and much more

A still from surveillance footage showing a confrontation in the entranceway at Dolly’s Gym on Nicol Street on Friday morning. (Image submitted)
Troublemaker in Nanaimo fails at fraud attempt, slams door on business owner’s foot

VIDEO: Suspect causes pain and damage in incident downtown Friday morning

Most Read