Snowbirds crash investigation could take 1 year

A Canadian team of investigators arrived Sunday at the Montana airbase where a Snowbirds crash occurred, and have begun an investigation that could take one year to conclude.

A Canadian team of investigators arrived Sunday at the Montana airbasewhere a Snowbirds crash occurred, and have begunan investigation that could take one year to conclude.

Maj. Ken Smith, the lead investigator onthe Canadian Forces flight safety team, said the 10-member unit is examining the plane wreckage, collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses in an effort to find out what caused the crash that killed Capt. Shawn McCaughey, 31, of Candiac, Que.

McCaughey was in one of a group of planes practising manoeuvres during rehearsal for a weekend air show when his aircraft left the formation and pitched into the ground.

"We can't rule out anything at this time," Smith said, citing the cause could include mechanical and environmental issues.

To help the investigation, he asked that anyone with footage or images of the incidentmake them available tohis team.

Smith said the field investigation will be completed in about two weeks.

After that,all the evidence will be brought back to Canada where it will be further analyzed at the team's headquarters in Ottawa, Smith said.

Meanwhile, the Snowbirds team has remained at the U.S. airbase to help with the investigation.

Lieut. Petra Smith, public affairs officer for the Snowbirds, said the team is a close-knit family and the loss of the young pilot, who was to be married next month, has devastated them.

The Snowbirds perform high-speed, low-altitude manoeuvres in nine Canadair CT-114 Tutors, and are part of the Canadian air force.

Retiredlieutenant-colonel D.F. Huyghebaert, who was a former Snowbirds commander in the 1980s, told CBC News that his team always had an escape plan when flying in formation in case one ofhismembershit a bird or encountered engine troubles.

The Snowbirds, who have cancelled their next engagement at a B.C. air show next Wednesday,are expected to return to Moose Jaw, Sask., to spend time with family members, and possibly attend a memorial for McCaughey, Huyghebaert speculated.

"The team will want to be there for that," he said, adding that after members regroup, they'll get back in their jets to practise and then continue on with their show season.