Military identifies pilot, photographer killed in Snowbirds crash
Military officials have identified the pilot and photographer who died when a Snowbirds jet crashed during a training mission Thursday at 15 Wing Moose Jaw, the aerobatic squadron's home base in southwest Saskatchewan.
The pilot was Capt. Bryan (Mav) Mitchell, 46, and the photographer was Sgt. Charles (Chuck) Senecal, 49, the military said in a news release issued Friday afternoon.
The plane hit the ground about two kilometres northwest of the base's boundary, between the base and the nearby city of Moose Jaw.
The plane had been in the air for about 45 minutes while Senecal took photographs of three other planes flying in formation. It crashed at 12:37 p.m. Thursday.
Col. Paul Keddy, wing commander, called it a routine mission.
At a news conference on Friday, Keddy said that Mitchell was scheduled to fly with the Snowbirds aerobatics team in the 2009 show season.
Pilots who have been selected for the team, but who have not yet finished their training, are part of the Snowbirds' home team. That group, which also includes technicians and other support staff, remains at 15 Wing Moose Jaw while the nine performance jets are on tour. A tenth plane also travels to performances.
Maj. Rob Mitchell, commander of Snowbirds squadron, said from San Francisco, where the performance team had shows scheduled for the weekend, that everyone associated with the group was "deeply saddened."
Keddy said a practice, scheduled for Friday, had been cancelled and no decision had been taken as to whether the planes would do their formation show in San Francisco. Flights at the base have also been suspended. Keddy said it was precautionary and would be reviewed in the coming day.
The crash left twisted wreckage in a farmer's field.
Ronald Alix, an eyewitness to the crash, told CBC News that he saw black smoke trailing from the plane, which was on a dangerous trajectory.
"I said well, it's gonna hit the ground. Sure enough, it went and crashed on the ground," Alix said on Thursday.
Keddy said it was still not known what caused the crash. Investigators from the base and experts from Ottawa were set to begin their work on Friday. Keddy did reveal that there were no communications from the pilot in the moments prior to impact.
"Despite the age of the Tutor in other fleets in many parts of the world … the Canadian Forces aircraft are the most well-maintained aircraft in the world," Keddy said.
"They've served us over the years and continue to serve the air force and will do well into the future."
The Snowbirds plane was in the air with three other aircraft from the base: a Hawk, a Harvard and another Tutor. Those planes were flying different formations to be photographed by Senecal for use in various promotional materials.
The other planes returned to base safely.
Mitchell was from Whiterock, B.C. He had a wife and two daughters. Senecal was originally from Montreal. He had a wife and son.
As of Thursday, eight people, including seven pilots, have died in crashes of Snowbird jets since the team was formally inaugurated in 1971.
- June 10, 1972 — Capt. Lloyd Waterer, 24, died during an air show at CFB Trenton, Ont.
- May 3, 1978 — Capt. Gordon de Jong, 32, died during air show in Grande Prairie, Alta.
- Sept. 3, 1989 — Capt. Shane Antaya, 24, died when his plane plunged into Lake Ontario during an air show in Toronto.
- Dec. 10, 1998 — Capt. Michael VandenBos, 29, died in a pre-season training collision with another Snowbird, south of Moose Jaw. The other pilot survived.
- Dec. 10, 2004 — Capt. Miles Selby, 31, died in a collision during a training session. The other pilot survived.
- May 18, 2007 — Capt. Shawn McCaughey, 31, died in a crash while practising for an air show at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Mont.
There have also been eight occasions where Snowbird planes have crashed or collided and the pilots survived.
The CT-114 jet has been in service since 1962 and was adopted as the Snowbird plane in 1971.