Nearly three dozen pilots flew over British Columbia’s Lower Mainland on Monday evening to commemorate Canadian Forces Snowbirds Capt. Jennifer Casey, who was killed in a plane crash on Sunday during a cross-country tour to improve morale and thank front-line workers during the coronavirus pandemic.
The B.C. General Aviation Association said in a statement that 35 pilots signed up to pay tribute to the Snowbirds and to Casey.
“Let’s pick up where the Snowbirds left off in honour of Captain Jenn Casey in their mission to fly over Canada to lift the spirits of Canadians,” they said.
They’re calling it Operation Backup Inspiration, a nod to Operation Inspiration, the name of the Canadian Armed Forces mission Casey was deployed to when she died.
“There’s a lot of emotion attached to what the Snowbirds represent,” said pilot Nicole Wardstrom, who took part in the flyover.
“This is not representing what they do, it’s more us taking a moment to remember them.”
One by one, the pilots taxied their planes down the runway at Abbotsord International Airport and took off, later forming a loose formation that soared over parts of the Metro Vancouver area.
The planes first headed for Langley and White Rock, before making their way over Surrey and towards Burnaby Lake. The pilots then headed off to their home airports after roughly an hour of flying.
Those on the ground were asked to participate in a moment of silence as the planes flew over their communities. Many ended up taking video of the planes overhead, whose flying also coincided with the daily 7 p.m. cheer for health-care workers.
No pilots were permitted to join the flyover mid-flight, the B.C. General Aviation Association said. No formal formations were allowed to be formed, it added, as the pilots aren’t trained for that type of flying.
“Safety is paramount,” the association said in its statement, warning the flight would be cancelled if its safety was in doubt.
According to a statement from the National Department of Defence, the CF Snowbirds were taking off from the airport in Kamloops, B.C., when the plane crashed in a residential neighbourhood.
What caused the plane — a CT-114 Tutor — to fall out of the sky is still unknown. An investigation into the cause of the crash is expected to take weeks or even months, according to the military.
Video of the crash appears to show two ejections from the plane, and witnesses previously told Global News that a pilot flying with Casey was able to eject himself, landing on a rooftop nearby. That pilot, later identified as Capt. Richard MacDougall, sustained serious but non-life threatening injuries.
The Snowbird fleet is on an “operational pause” according to its commanding officer Lt.-Col. Mike French, and its next steps are yet to be determined.
“We believe in their goal of inspiring Canada, and we want to continue their journey,” said pilot Jessica Peare, who also took part in Monday’s flyover.
“I hope that today we’re able to inspire Canadians that there is hope, and we’re all in this together.”
—With files from Global’s Sarah MacDonald