Canadian fighter jet crashes, pilot ejects safely
COLD LAKE, Alta. - A Canadian Forces pilot who huddled for two hours in the cold and dark after he ejected from his CF-18 fighter jet wasn't seriously hurt when rescue crews found him at the crash site in northern Alberta.
Capt. Darren Blakie was on the final approach to Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake a few minutes before midnight Wednesday when his plane went down in a field 13 kilometres away.
He was discovered by rescuers scouring the area in a military helicopter when he set off a flare to attract their attention.
"He was found in fairly good condition, all things considered, and he was taken to hospital," said Capt. Nicole Meszaros, a spokeswoman for the air base.
Blakie -- a member of the 409 Tactical Fighter Squadron at Cold Lake -- was examined by a military doctor at the local civilian hospital and was expected to be released.
Meszaros said Blakie was participating in a night training exercise at the time of the crash.
Capt. Keith Hoey, spokesman for the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre at CFB Trenton, Ont., said it wasn't clear why the pilot had to eject. A flight safety team from National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa was to examine the wreckage and determine what happened.
Meszaros confirmed that the cause is still a mystery.
"We don't know what went wrong at this point of time," Meszaros said. "We don't like to speculate on that ... because it could compromise the outcome of the investigation."
Hoey said the emergency response to the crash was immediate, although "the weather and the fact that it was dark just made it difficult to find him."
Meszaros said the rescue crew and the RCMP worked together to pinpoint the scene.
"That effort to get everybody involved in finding the downed aircraft and finding the downed pilot was obviously critical in making sure Capt. Blakie survived after the crash."
Meszaros said she wasn't sure how many others may have been out flying. "Typically it's a group of pilots who go up and they do their training in a co-ordinated effort.
It was cold, but Meszaros wasn't sure if it was snowing. It was -13 C around that time, with the wind chill making it a bone-chilling -22 C.
Blakie would have been well-prepared, she suggested.
"One thing about flying in northern Alberta, our pilots are well-equipped and well-trained to deal with the elements, so when they go flying, they certainly wear the right military equipment to ensure their safety in the event of a crash," she said
"We have an extensive program run by our flight safety staff on the base . . . cold weather is something that members of the Canadian Forces operate in."
The crash is the second in Alberta involving a CF-18 in about four months.
In July, one of the jets exploded in a huge fireball during a low-speed, low-level practice run prior to an air show in Lethbridge.
The pilot, Capt. Brian Bews, suffered back injuries when he ejected from the aircraft just seconds before it hit the ground.
The crash prompted the military to ground the demonstration team's fighter jets for the remainder of the year, although CF-18s have continued to fly at air shows in non-aerobatic roles.
Produced between 1982 and 1988, Canada's CF-18s are aging and due to be replaced by 65 F-35 stealth fighter jets in 2020. They are based in Cold Lake and Bagotville, Que., and the air force had 78 modernized CF-18s remaining as of September.
The $16-billion F-35 purchase has been controversial because the contract was untendered. A Liberal motion calling on the government to immediately cancel its deal with Lockheed Martin is likely to pass next week, but will not be binding on the government. The government maintains the F-35 is the best option available.