A Canadian Armed Forces Snowbird plane participating in a cross-country tour aimed at boosting the morale of Canadians dealing with the pandemic crashed Sunday in a residential neighborhood, sending people pouring onto the street where they said debris was scattered and a house was on fire.
Canada’s defense department said emergency crews were responding to the crash at the airport in the city of Kamloops in British Columbia. The Snowbirds are Canada’s equivalent of the US Navy’s Blue Angels.
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 everybody’s OK.”
Video posted to Twitter by 6:10 a.m. 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.
“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.
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.
Capostinsky said there were large flames flaring on and off and a strong toxic smell filled the air.
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.”
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.