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Ken McCaughey said Tuesday that the military had been 'negligent' in not rectifying a problem with the Snowbird jets' seat-belt system. A military report blamed a faulty belt for the death of his son, pilot Shawn McCaughey, in a 2007 crash. ((CBC/file))

The father of a fallen Snowbird jet pilot says if the military had acted sooner to fix a known problem with a seat-belt mechanism, his son would still be alive.

Ken McCaughey, who lives in Candiac, Que., near Montreal, spoke to CBC News on Tuesday, the day after the release of a military report that examined the May 2007 crash of a Snowbird jet piloted by Capt. Shawn McCaughey.

Investigators determined that a faulty seat-belt system, which should have been checked every time it was used, caused the accident. McCaughey fell out of his seat while making an upside-down manoeuvre during a practice flight, lost control of the plane and could not eject safely, according to the report, released at CFB Moose Jaw, home base of the Snowbirds team.

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Snowbird Capt. Shawn McCaughey, 31, was killed when his Tutor jet crashed during a practice in 2007. ((DND))

McCaughey died in the crash, which took place on the perimeter of an American air base in Montana. The Snowbirds were scheduled to fly during a weekend open house at the base.

Ken McCaughey noted, as did the report, that the problem with the seat-belt system was known to military officials in 2002, but the part was kept in use. Instead of changing the part, pilots were instructed to double-check to ensure their belts were properly secured.

"I think it was negligent … to take so long to fix a major problem at the time," McCaughey told CBC News.

"Maybe they would have fixed the problem before, and Shawn would be alive today," McCaughey said. "Five years after the first accident happened, and it wasn't fixed? To me, its unbelievable."

McCaughey also addressed the portion of the crash report which suggested his son failed to follow procedures to ensure the lap belt was properly fastened.

"Did you ask Shawn about that?" McCaughey said. "He's no longer with us."

McCaughey said the family continued to struggle with the loss of his son.

Military officials said on Monday that shortly after the first accident involving the Snowbird lap belts, in 2002, a potential fix had been identified. They said, however, that it took several years before the new part could be installed.

Officials said there were several reasons for the delay:

  • The new part was made a lower priority item.
  • Numerous personnel changes affected who was responsible for following up on testing a replacement part.
  • A report on the performance of a new part was temporarily lost when it was misdirected between air force command in Winnipeg and National Defence headquarters in Ottawa.

The new part was almost ready for installation in May of 2007, just prior to McCaughey's crash, officials said. The military was able to change the part for all the Snowbirds' remaining Tutor jets within about six weeks after the crash.