Critics say Snowbirds should be disbanded

Questions were asked in the Commons about the time it took rescuers to reach the site where two Snowbirds pilots crashed.

Questions were asked Monday in the House of Commons about the time it took rescuers to reach the site where two Snowbirds pilots crashed last Friday.

It took rescuers 46 minutes to reach the crash site by road. But even with a rescue helicopter at its disposal, the military insists the operation wouldn't have taken any less time.

"The search and rescue response followed all the procedures, all the checklists, so we're very satisfied with that," said Capt. Stephanie Walker.

The military says Capt. Miles Selby, 31, who died in the crash, could not have been saved. And the surviving pilot, Capt. Chuck Mallett, was picked up by a local civilian ambulance within 18 minutes, faster than rescue helicopters can usually reach an accident site.

Minister of Defence Bill Graham said there are practical reasons why there are no helicopters at CFB Moose Jaw. "The reasons why they were not at Moose Jaw is it has very much more accessible roads than at other places where training occurs."

Some critics, however, say the Snowbirds should be scrapped and their $10-million budget directed elsewhere. The aging jets, which are older than the pilots who fly them, should be retired. "It's a luxury," said former colonel Michel Drapeau, "and I think the time has come to question [it] and possibly do without."

Investigators have given the planes the green light to fly immediately, which suggests it was not a mechanical failure that led to the mid-air collision.

"Indications are that it is not a fleet-wide problem and that's why the Snowbirds are still able to fly at this time," said Capt. Jim Hutcheson, a member of the flight safety investigation team.