KAMLOOPS, B.C. — A member of the Snowbirds team is dead and another is seriously injured after a Canadian Forces Snowbird plane crashed Sunday in a residential area of Kamloops, B.C.
The plane crashed shortly after takeoff, sending neighbours pouring onto the street where they said a house had erupted into flames.
This is the second crash involving the military's famed aerobatic team in less than a year.
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.
Kamloops RCMP said the situation is dynamic and they weren't able to confirm any details about injuries as of mid-afternoon on Sunday.
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.
The Department of National Defence confirmed the crash on Twitter.
"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," the tweet reads.
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.
Rose Miller lives directly across the street from where the plane hit. She'd watched the Snowbirds arrive on Saturday, and went to her front window 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 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 a said section of roof on a nearby street has been covered up.
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.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2020.
— with files from Brenna Owen in Vancouver, Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton, Salmaan Farooqui in Toronto and Lee Berthiaume in Ottawa.
The Canadian Press