Canadian acrobatic jet crashes amid pandemic show; at least one dead

A Canadian acrobatic jet crashed into a British Columbia neighbourhood on Sunday during a flyover intended to boost morale during the pandemic, killing one crew member, seriously injuring another and setting a house on fire. Video appeared to show the plane's crew ejecting.

Capt. Jennifer Casey was identified as the deceased victim. She was the team's public affairs officer, according to the National Defence Canadian Armed Forces.

The crash left debris scattered across the neighbourhood near the airport in the city of Kamloops, 260 miles (418 kilometers) northeast of Vancouver. Canada's defense department said emergency crews were responding. The Snowbirds are Canada's equivalent of Britain's Red Arrows.

"It is with heavy hearts that we announce that one member of the CF Snowbirds team has died and one has sustained serious injuries," The Royal Canadian Air Force said in a tweet. The air force said the surviving member does not have life-threatening injuries.

Rose Miller lives directly across the street from where the plane hit. She'd watched the Snowbirds arrive on Saturday, and she went to her front window on Sunday when she heard the roar of jet engines.

Miller said she heard a loud bang and wondered whether it might be a sonic boom. Then she watched the plane smash onto the ground.

"It looked to me like it was mostly on the road, but it just exploded. It went everywhere," she said. "In fact, I got a big, huge piece in my backyard. The cops said it was the ejection seat."

Miller said a couple in their early 70s lives in the home. Both are OK, she said, noting that she'd spoken with them after they were evacuated to a nearby street. The woman had been in the basement while the man was behind the house.

Miller said section of roof on a home on a nearby street has been covered up.

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First responders attend to a person on a rooftop at the scene of a crash involving a Canadian Forces Snowbirds airplane in Kamloops, British Columbia, Sunday, May 17, 2020. (Brendan Kergin/Castanet Kamloops/The Canadian Press via AP)
Canadian Forces Snowbirds planes are seen in the background as people place hearts and signs on the fence surrounding the airport in Kamloops, Canada, Sunday, May 17, 2020. A Canadian aerobatic jet crashed into the British Columbia neighborhood of Kamloops on Sunday during a flyover intended to boost morale during the pandemic, killing one crew member, seriously injuring another and setting a house on fire. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP)
Canadian Forces Snowbird captains Erik Temple, from left, and Joel Wilson and Logan Reid speak to a Royal Canadian Mounted police officer at the crash scene of a Canadian Forces Snowbird plane in Kamloops, Canada, Sunday, May 17, 2020. A Canadian aerobatic jet crashed into the British Columbia neighborhood Sunday during a flyover intended to boost morale during the pandemic, killing one crew member, seriously injuring another and setting a house on fire. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP)
Canadian Forces Snowbird Captain Joel Wilson surveys the crash scene of a Canadian Forces Snowbird plane in Kamloops, British Columbia, Sunday, May 17, 2020. One crew member has died and another is badly injured after a Canadian Forces Snowbird plane crashed in a residential area of Kamloops while on a cross-country tour meant to impart hope during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP)
Canadian Forces Snowbirds planes are seen in the background as people place hearts and signs on the fence surrounding the airport in Kamloops, Canada, Sunday, May 17, 2020. A Canadian aerobatic jet crashed into the British Columbia neighborhood of Kamloops on Sunday during a flyover intended to boost morale during the pandemic, killing one crew member, seriously injuring another and setting a house on fire. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP)
Canadian Forces Snowbird pilot Joel Wilson, with a police officer, walks past the crash site of one of his team's airplanes in Kamloops, Canada, Sunday, May 17, 2020. The Canadian acrobatic jet crashed into the British Columbia neighborhood Sunday during a flyover intended to boost morale during the pandemic, killing at least one crew member, seriously injuring another and setting a house on fire. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP)
The remains of a downed Canadian Forces Snowbird plane is pictured as a member of the Snowbirds walks past in Kamloops, Canada, Sunday, May 17, 2020. The Canadian acrobatic jet crashed into the British Columbia neighborhood Sunday during a flyover intended to boost morale during the pandemic, killing at least one crew member, seriously injuring another and setting a house on fire. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP)
First responders carry an injured person on a stretcher across a fire truck ladder from a rooftop at the scene of a crash involving a Canadian Forces Snowbirds aircraft in Kamloops, British Columbia, Sunday, May 17, 2020. (Brendan Kergin/Castanet Kamloops/The Canadian Press via AP)
The Canadian Forces Snowbirds fly past the Toronto skyline as part of Operation Inspiration, their cross-country salute to Canadians helping fight the spread of COVID-19, on Sunday, May 10, 2020. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
The Canadian Forces Snowbirds fly past the Toronto skyline as part of Operation Inspiration, their cross-country salute to Canadians helping fight the spread of COVID-19, on Sunday, May 10, 2020. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
The Canadian Forces Snowbirds fly past the Toronto skyline as part of Operation Inspiration, their cross-country salute to Canadians helping fight the spread of COVID-19, on Sunday, May 10, 2020. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Video posted to Twitter by 6:10am 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.

"This accident really shakes us to our core," Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian said. About five houses had to be evacuated.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said the cause of the crash is under investigation.

"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," the Department of National Defense said in a statement.

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."

Hinds had been watching the aircraft after hearing them take off, and said he was able to see the crash and saw "the Snowbird going straight down."

"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," he said.

Operation Inspiration started in Nova Scotia earlier this month and features the team's signature nine-jet formation. It was aimed at boosting morale amid the pandemic.

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.

Sunday's crash follows the downing of another Snowbird in the US 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.

The Snowbirds have performed at airshows across Canada and the US 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.

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