Death of Canadian Forces member in Snowbirds crash just the latest tragedy for Nova Scotia
TORONTO -- The death of Capt. Jennifer Casey in a Canadian Forces Snowbirds crash is just the latest blow for Nova Scotia and the Canadian military, says Gov. Gen. Julie Payette.
Casey, who had been the aerobatics team’s public affairs officer since November 2018, was from Halifax. She died when the Tutor jet she was flying in crashed just minutes after takeoff in Kamloops, B.C. on Sunday.
Casey and the pilot of the jet, Capt. Richard MacDougall, were able to eject from the stricken aircraft. MacDougall landed on the roof of a home and suffered non-lifethreatening injuries, the CF Snowbirds confirmed via Twitter Sunday night.
Payette, who served as both a pilot and an astronaut, told CTV News Channel Monday that she is “devastated” by the crash.
She trained on the Tutor military jet in Moose Jaw, Sask., the home of the Snowbirds, in the 1990s.
She said the tragedy is hard on the team, but is also a loss for all Canadians because “we are a part of the Snowbirds and we are grieving with them. It is such a loss. She was fantastic, Jenn Casey,” she said.
Payette says Casey’s love and understanding of the Snowbirds came through in her communications to the public.
“We are going to grieve her tremendously. And we wish the other pilot as speedy a recovery as possible with his injuries. And then we will stand fast and continue to bear the flag high for Canada.”
Casey joined the Canadian Forces in 2014 and was based out of Trenton, Ont., after working in radio as a reporter, anchor and producer in her hometown of Halifax and then in Belleville, Ont., according to her Royal Canadian Air Force bio.
Casey spent most of 2018 with the CF-18 Demo Team, travelling around North America and the United Kingdom with the NORAD 60 jet. She joined the Snowbirds in November 2018.
“She absolutely loved this job,” Lt.-Col. Mike French, commanding officer of the Snowbirds, said during a news conference on Monday.
“Her loss is a serious blow to not only our team, but to the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Canadian Armed Forces as a whole.”
French said the “precise circumstances” surrounding the crash are not yet known and team from the Directorate of Flight Safety in Ottawa has already arrived in Kamloops to investigate the crash. He added that it could be longer than a year before the investigation is completed.
In the meantime, French said the Snowbirds Operation Inspiration is postponed until further notice while the team is on an “operational pause.”
“It’s absolutely our first priority as pilots in these airplanes to consider the safety of the public, the safety of our personnel, and the safety of the protection of equipment and preservation of property, in that order,” he said. “Yesterday's circumstances led to the confluence of all those worst-case scenarios, and it became our absolute worst nightmare.”
Tim Durkin, who worked with Casey at Quinte Broadcasting in Belleville, said they became fast friends when she joined the station in 2013. She was easy-going and good-natured and jumped right into the community. She loved hockey and was always eager to help out her friends whenever she could, he told CTV News Channel.
“We have to remember what the Snowbirds and Capt. Casey were doing on this travel and that was trying to bring hope to people and we have to ensure that’s always at the forefront.”
According to her LinkedIn profile, Casey completed a masters of interdisciplinary studies at Royal Roads University in 2019 and held a bachelor of journalism from University of King’s College and a bachelor of arts in political science and comparative world religions from Dalhousie University.
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil tweeted Monday morning: “On behalf of the entire province, I offer my deepest condolences to Capt. Jennifer Casey’s family, friends, @CFSnowbirds team and fellow service members. Nova Scotians stand with you and send our love, thoughts and prayers.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also offered thoughts to Casey and MacDougall’s families, along with the Snowbirds team.
"For the past two weeks, the Snowbirds have been flying across the country to lift up Canadians during these difficult times. Every day, they represent the very best of Canada and demonstrate excellence through incredible skill and dedication,” he said in a statement.
Condolences are pouring in on social media.
“I'm honoured to have had the opportunity to have met her (and taken this picture) along with the rest of the team when they were in Barrie last summer,” Aaron Haberman posted on Twitter. “She was generous with her time and spirit and a great ambassador for the Snowbirds. May your spirit forever be at peace.”
A Twitter account called Canadian Forces in U.S. posted: “A Nova Scotian storyteller, she was a journalist before joining as a Public Affairs Officer. Across Canada and the United States, she brought stories and smiles. She was one of us, our sister. Captain Jenn Casey died today. Please say her name. Remember Jenn. -30-”
Payette agrees that it’s been a tough month Nova Scotia and for the Canadian military, with the downing of a Cyclone helicopter off the coast of Greece that killed six on April 29. Three of the victims were from Nova Scotia, which was also rocked by Canada’s worst massing shooting last month, which claimed 22 victims.
"Now they lose one of their own daughters," Durkin said. "It's something that the whole country reels with, but Nova Scotia in particular is going to be hit hard now."
Payette says Canada’s military personnel are tough, resilient and steadfast. They understand their roles require confronting risk, but continue on, nonetheless. She said talking to air force leaders in the wake of the crash Sunday took her back to the experience of losing the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003.
Payette, who was chief astronaut for the Canadian Space Agency from 2000 to 2007, and served as mission specialist on the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1999 and again on the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 2009, said in the wake of the Columbia disaster, she and her colleagues were eager to go back to space, so that seven astronauts killed in that accident “would not die in vain.”
“And I felt that exact same spirit when I spoke to so many of our Canadian air force people yesterday. It’s hard but we will stand and they were doing this for us Canadians.”
Robert Miller, who served as the Snowbirds commander in 2007 when Capt. Shawn McCaugheywas killed during a practice run in Montana, said the incident brought back grim memories of the previous incident.
“I was torn up right away,” he said.“It really brought me right back to that moment.”
The Snowbird crash happened at a time when so many Canadians were able to bear witness to the roar and power of the tight formation of nine red and white jets flying overhead. The Snowbirds, initially grounded by the pandemic, took to the skies again over the past two weeks in a cross-country tour of the country dubbed Operation Inspiration.
The flyovers began in Casey’s native province of Nova Scotia. The goal was to raise spirits in a difficult time.
It’s time for Canadians to return the favour, says Payette.
“They show us who we are, intrinsically in our fabric,” said Payette. “And right now, we have to stand beside them. We have to give them comfort and help them get back on their feet.”
With files from CTVNews.ca Writer Ben Cousins and The Canadian Press