A member of the elite Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) aerobatics team has died and another has been injured when a plane crashed during a performance to honour public efforts against the coronavirus.
The aircraft, part of the team known as the Snowbirds, crashed into the front yard of a house in Kamloops, British Columbia, shortly after taking off on Sunday morning.
“It is with heavy hearts that we announce that one member of the CF Snowbirds team has died,” the RCAF tweeted late on Sunday. In an update on Monday, it said the other person’s injuries were not considered life-threatening.
The person killed was identified by the RCAF as Captain Jenn Casey, a public affairs officer with the air force.
It is with heavy hearts that we announce that one member of the CF Snowbirds team has died and one has sustained serious injuries. We can confirm that we have contacted all primary family members of those involved. More information will be communicated in the near future.
— Royal Canadian Air Force (@RCAF_ARC) May 17, 2020
Update: Our previous statement indicated that the surviving member of the crash suffered serious injuries, we can confirm that their injuries are not considered life threatening.
— Royal Canadian Air Force (@RCAF_ARC) May 18, 2020
Witnesses said the pilot managed to eject from the plane with a parachute before it crashed, landing on the roof of a house.
Video shot by a witness showed two of the team’s Canadair Tutor single-engine aircraft taking off. One of the planes reared up almost immediately before plunging to the ground, exploding just after the pilot ejected.
In another video taken by a passer-by, the burning wreckage of the aircraft can be seen in front of a house as people gathered outside.
Photos from the crash scene also appeared to show debris burning in front of the building, part of which was on fire.
“No noise, it was strange, and then the plane just did a cartwheel and fell right out of the sky. Just boom, straight down, and then a burst of black, black smoke,” witness Annette Schonewille told Radio Canada.
Public broadcaster CBC quoted another witness, Nolyn Mcleod, as saying the plane passed about three metres (9.8 feet) over his roof.
“We saw the pilot eject like maybe two stories high, and then the plane with no pilot in it went right between me and my neighbour’s house,” before finally hitting the neighbour’s bedroom window, he said.
“It was complete chaos. People were yelling and screaming. We thought we were getting bombed or something. That’s how hectic it was.”
The plane was scheduled to fly over British Columbia as part of a tour dubbed Operation Inspiration launched earlier this month to pay tribute to Canadians’ efforts to battle the coronavirus pandemic.
The Snowbirds’ signature nine-jet formation, with trailing white smoke, began its tour in Nova Scotia and was to perform aerial displays over cities from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans, at elevations as low as 150 metres (500 feet).
The incident was the second recent accident involving the Snowbirds. One of the team’s jets crashed into an unpopulated area last October before a show in Atlanta – after the pilot ejected.