An investigation into the May 17 crash of a Snowbird jet that killed Capt. Jenn Casey is focusing on a possible bird strike. A red circle shows an object, believed to be a bird, near the right intake of the aircraft's engine in flight. (RCAF)

Investigators hone in on possible bird strike in Snowbird jet’s fatal crash

Shortly after the crash of the Snowbird aerobatics jet that took the life of Capt. Jenn Casey last month in British Columbia, the team’s commanding officer called it “our absolute worst nightmare.”

And, Lt.-Col. Mike French added, the circumstances leading up to the crash remained unknown and might take at least a year to find out.

On Monday, investigators released a preliminary report that says video footage from the crash showed a bird was very close to the right-side air intake of the Snowbird jet’s single engine during takeoff.

The report suggests it is possible the bird struck the air intake.

Capt. Jenn Casey is seen in this undated handout photo from the Royal Canadian Air Force Twitter page. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Twitter-@RCAF_ARC)

The CBC’s Murray Brewster reports that such strikes are not uncommon and that as a matter of routine, flight planners are expected to take careful precautions against bird strikes, especially during migratory season.

The May 17 crash occurred shortly after two of the Snowbirds’ jets took off from the Kamloops Airport while participating in a cross-country tour aimed at boosting Canadians’ morale during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A video posted to social media showed the jet was climbing just before what appeared to be an engine flameout. 

The aircraft then turned and went into a steep nose dive before hitting the ground in a residential neighbourhood.

Capt. Casey, the Snowbirds’ public-affairs officer who was riding as a passenger, was killed.

The pilot, Capt. Richard MacDougall, sustained serious but non-life-threatening injuries. 

Capt. Richard MacDougall, 34, was injured in the Snowbirds jet crash that killed Capt. Jenn Casey on Sunday, May 17. (Royal Canadian Air Force)

Both ejected from the plane seconds before it hit the ground, and no one on the ground was seriously hurt.

The crash was the second for the Snowbirds since October when another of the team’s Tutor jets went down just prior to an airshow in the U.S. state of Georgia.

The pilot, Capt. Kevin Domon-Grenier, ejected safely and was unhurt.

Both crashes have prompted questions about the safety of the Tutors, which are 57 years old.

Canadian Forces Snowbirds jets are seen in the background as a woman attaches a sign to a fence in Kamloops, B.C. on Monday, May 18. Capt. Jenn Casey died Sunday after the Snowbirds jet she was in crashed shortly after takeoff. The pilot of the aircraft, Capt. Richard MacDougall, is in hospital with serious injuries. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)

The team has been temporarily grounded and their cross-country tour, Operation Inspiration, was suspended after the B.C. crash. 

The Snowbirds have been performing since 1971 and prior to the Kamloops crash had lost seven pilots and one passenger since 1972.

The crash in Kamloops came just weeks after a military helicopter went down off the coast of Greece, killing six people.

With files from CBC News (Murray Brewster), The Canadian Press (Lee Berthiaume)

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