British Columbia·Video

Dozens of B.C. pilots fly over Lower Mainland to honour Snowbirds after deadly crash

A memorial at the airport in Kamloops, B.C., grew steadily on Monday as locals, mourners and fans of the Snowbirds came to show their appreciation after one of the military jets crashed shortly after takeoff on Sunday.

Snowbirds jet crashed in Kamloops, B.C., on Sunday, killing 1 and injuring pilot

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

More than two dozen pilots in B.C. completed a memorial flyover to pay their respects after a deadly Snowbirds crash in Kamloops, B.C., killed one military captain and left another badly injured on Sunday.

About 35 members of the B.C. General Aviation Association (BCGAA) flew over the Lower Mainland on Monday evening, taking off together from the Abbotsford Airport around 6 p.m. PT.

"Let's pick up where the Snowbirds left off, in honour of Capt. Jenn Casey, in their mission to fly over Canada to lift the spirits of Canadians," the association wrote in an online post Monday.

Casey, a spokesperson with the Snowbirds and former journalist, was killed when a Snowbirds jet crashed into a residential neighbourhood shortly after taking off from the Kamloops, B.C. airport just before noon PT on Sunday. The pilot, Capt. Richard MacDougall, was seriously hurt in the crash but is expected to survive.

Watch as B.C. pilots pay tribute to the Snowbirds on Monday evening:

Watch B.C. pilots pay tribute to Snowbirds team member killed in crash

2 years ago
Duration 0:36
More than a dozen B.C. pilots took part in a flyover of the Lower Mainland in tribute to Capt. Jenn Casey, who died after ejecting from a Snowbirds plane. 0:36

The Snowbirds, in their white and red jets, had been touring the country for Operation Inspiration, a flyover mission intended as an uplifting tribute to Canadians during the coronavirus pandemic.

The BCGAA named its memorial flyover "Operation Backup Inspiration." The planes could be spotted over Abbotsford, Langley, White Rock, Surrey, Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, Coquitlam, Port Moody, Burnaby, the North Shore and Vancouver before breaking off in Burnaby to fly to their home airports.

Memorial begins at Kamloops airport

A sombre memorial along the fence at the Kamloops Airport grew steadily on Monday as locals came to pay their respects to the Snowbirds the day after the crash.

By midday, dozens had gathered to hold a drum circle at a field near the fence running alongside the tarmac. Canadian flags, paper hearts, flower bouquets and handwritten messages to Capt. Casey and the Snowbirds were strung up far along the fence.

Mike Gregson arrived early Monday morning, kneeling in silence as he fixed his old personal rank, insignia and shoulder flash to the fence early Monday. He'd saved them for decades from his time as a teenager in the Royal Canadian Air Cadets, back when he dreamed of becoming a fighter pilot.

Jenn Casey, a public affairs officer with the Snowbirds, died Sunday in the crash. (Royal Canadian Air Force)

"It just means something to me," said Gregson, wearing a worn ball cap with the roundel of the Royal Canadian Air Force on the front.

"I just came by here to pay my respects for the folks who came here and wanted to be able to provide to the country an inspirational show and a show of support for all of us here in Canada."

Mike Gregson, who lives in Kamloops, B.C., tied to the fence his old insignia from his time in the Royal Canadian Air Cadets as a show of respect. (Chris Corday/CBC)

The Snowbirds' CT-114 Tutor aircraft went into a steep nosedive shortly after takeoff Sunday, bursting into flames in the front yard of a nearby home. Video showed at least one person ejecting from the aircraft before impact.

The Royal Canadian Air Force confirmed in a statement later in the afternoon that Casey was killed. The 34-year-old pilot, Capt. MacDougall, parachuted out of the plane and landed on a roof a few houses away from the crash site. His mother said her son is in stable condition.

Gregson ties his old shoulder flash from the Royal Canadian Air Cadets to the fence on Monday. (Chris Corday/CBC)

The entire Snowbirds fleet has been grounded in an operational pause and Operation Inspiration is postponed, the commanding officer of the Snowbirds said Monday.

"The precise circumstances leading up to the crash are not known," Lt.-Col. Mike French said during a news conference in Moose Jaw, Sask. on Monday afternoon.

Gregson, an engineer, had watched the Snowbirds with reverence during an earlier flight on Saturday.

"There was a number of us out in the parks, in the field over there, and it was great to see them," he said.

"It was devastating," he said of learning about the crash. "I was in shock. I had just come back from walking the dog and my neighbour came over and he said there'd been a crash. It's just unbelievable."

A family left a note in tribute to Casey along the fencing at Kamloops Airport. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Justin Bailey, another resident, brought his five-year-old daughter, Aria, to the memorial on Monday. He hoisted her on his shoulders and told her about the planes and the pilots who fly them.

"We just wanted to pay our respects to the Snowbirds.... Military is really important in a time like this, and it's important to show your respects." said Bailey, who, like Gregson, had also seen the jets earlier in the weekend.

"It was pretty exciting to see them on Saturday, but then to hear the news was quite sad."

A memorial grew Monday morning along the fencing at Kamloops Airport in Kamloops, B.C., where a Canadian Snowbirds jet took off Sunday before crashing in a nearby neighbourhood. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Casey was originally from Halifax. Her biography with the RCAF said she joined Canada's Armed Forces in 2014 after several years working as a journalist. 

An eight-member military flight investigation team arrived in Kamloops from Ottawa on Monday to begin searching for the cause of the crash.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rhianna Schmunk is a staff writer for CBC News. She is based in Vancouver with a focus on justice and the courts. You can reach her on Twitter @rhiannaschmunk or by email at rhianna.schmunk@cbc.ca.

With files from CBC's Tina Lovgreen

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