Snowbirds officials defend Tutor planes amid calls for replacements
VANCOUVER -- The day after a tragic plane crash in British Columbia that left one Snowbirds captain dead and another injured, there are calls for the aircraft involved to be grounded permanently.
The airplane that went down in residential neighbourhood in Kamloops on Sunday, killing Capt. Jennifer Casey of Halifax and injuring Capt. Richard MacDougall, was a CT-114 Tutor, the kind that was used for decades to train jet pilots in the Royal Canadian Air Force and Canadian Forces.
On Monday, aviation lawyer and engineer Arthur Rosenberg argued that while the Tutor was a "terrific trainer" for its time, the Snowbirds team shouldn't be "burdened" with flying them anymore.
"I think these planes need to be replaced – obviously the sooner, the better," Rosenberg told CTV News Channel. "It's had its day. It should be retired."
There have been seven fatal crashes involving Snowbirds pilots dating back to the early 1970s, most recently in 2008. Rosenberg also pointed to a similar non-fatal crash that happened just last year in Georgia, when a Snowbird pilot was forced to eject due to reported engine failure.
Casey and MacDougall both ejected from their plane on Sunday before it crashed into a home.
"In my opinion, they do not belong flying these old planes anymore," Rosenberg said.
But current officials and former members of the Snowbirds have defended the craft in light of the weekend's tragedy, noting that they are subjected to constant inspection and routine reassembly.
Speaking at a news conference on Monday, Lt.-Col. Mike French, commanding officer of the 431 Squadron Snowbirds, said the Tutors are completely rebuilt after every 400 hours in the air, which happens about every two years.
"They're torn right down to nothing and rebuilt, so we're dealing with basically an as-new, mint condition airplane when we do that," he said, adding that the aircraft are also checked prior to each flight.
"They're inspected by avionics people, aircraft structures people and safety systems people who go through the airplane and make sure that it's serviced properly. And then the pilot also does a walk around to make sure the airplane is safe prior to flying."
Robert Mitchell, who was twice a pilot with the Snowbirds, also expressed confidence in the planes, which he described as "one of the best training jets ever made."
"The Tutor jet in its form today is as good as the day it came off the line," Mitchell added. "I never questioned it. I would get in a jet right now."
It's unclear what caused the plane to go down on Sunday. Officials said an investigation has been launched by the Canadian Forces' director of flight safety in Ottawa, which will be conducted similarly to civilian investigations led by the Transportation Safety Board.
"They look at human factors, weather, maintenance, they interview people, they review video and they will do a full investigation to find out what happened with the aim of preventing this from happening in the future," French said.
Officials noted the full investigation can take upwards of a year to complete, but say there should be some initial information released within the next 30 days.
In the meantime, French said the Snowbirds fleet is on an "operational pause."
Members had been on a national tour called Operation Inspiration meant to boost Canadians' spirits during the COVID-19 crisis, and it's unclear whether it will resume.
"Over the coming days the team will regroup and come together as we mourn the loss of our colleague," French said. "When it is appropriate to do so, we will return to (the 15 Wing base in Moose Jaw) and determine our next steps."
With files from CTV News Vancouver's Emad Agahi and CTVNews.ca's Meredith MacLeod