A Snowbird flew over Nova Scotia, hoping to bring comfort to his home
Matt MacKenzie felt a heaviness as his aircraft descended over communities affected by tragedy
As Nova Scotians gazed up at the Canadian Forces Snowbirds soaring through the clouds last weekend, Matt MacKenzie was looking down and feeling the weight of successive tragedies that had enveloped his home province.
At 30, the aircraft services technician has flown a long way from his hometown of Truro.
But he returned as part of the mission to raise the spirits of Canadians who have spent long weeks at home during the pandemic. The first flight of the tour crossed Nova Scotia and he said it was unlike the legs that followed.
MacKenzie has friends and family affected by the mass shooting that killed 22 people and devastated communities from Portapique, N.S., to Enfield.
"I knew a lot of these people and their families were down there watching — and you could feel the emotion and the heaviness," he said. "To know that I'm waving the Nova Scotia flag above and that they're down there, you know, I couldn't put it into words how powerful that was. I would be lying if I said I wasn't choking up during that flight."
Missing man formation
While there was a sense of heaviness during the descent into Portapique, MacKenzie said he hopes that the flypast brought some comfort. He hopes that the symbolic "missing man formation" the team performed over CFB Shearwater helped his Royal Canadian Air Force family as it recovers from the loss of six military members last week.
"Us Snowbirds were the ones that were finally helping them to kind of have something positive to look at, to help them kind of turn the page and to heal a little bit."
MacKenzie is posted in Moose Jaw, Sask. He works as an aircraft structural technician on the Snowbirds, riding in the two-seater plane alongside his pilot. He makes sure the entire fleet's life support systems are running smoothly and helps the pilot keep an eye on the fuel systems in the air.
He and his pilot will fly in the same position in the Snowbird formation for a year together.
Normally, their tours are part of the air force's recruitment strategy.
But this mission, dubbed Operation Inspiration, hones in on residential areas instead. MacKenzie said his team hopes to thank people for staying home during the pandemic and to encourage them to watch the flyover while physical distancing.
The crew has flown over hospitals in the eastern provinces to thank essential workers. They've seen tiny dots marking the ground below as they move across Canada.
"I find, the rest of the country, you know, there are people out and people are enjoying it, but it's just me being Nova Scotian and it just doesn't feel exactly the same," he said. "Nova Scotia has been through so much and you know everybody was out watching. Everywhere we went, you looked down and you saw cars pulled over, you saw people."
MacKenzie's parents were among those watching. Because the air force members are practising physical distancing, he wasn't able to see them, except as tiny specks.
"But knowing they were down there was definitely super special for me," he said. "My mother … my father told me she was crying her face off, and she tried to get a video but accidentally took a picture of her finger — so those things kind of explain what kind of emotions they were feeling."
'Lifting the morale of our country'
Thankfully, he took a picture of where his parents would have been standing and sent it to them afterward.
The Snowbirds spent Friday at CFB Trenton as they move westward on their tour. It's expected to last another week, but plans are fluid, MacKenzie said.
Afterwards, he'll go back home to his wife and look forward to the birth of his first child in a few more months.
"I know when I get home, it's just gonna be that moment of reflection of all the lives we touched and all the people we have reached," he said. "It's something I'll be telling my child, when they're young, that I did a cross-country tour during a pandemic and lifting the morale of our country."
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