The Canadian Forces are looking into whether a bird strike may have caused the deadly crash of a Snowbirds aircraft last month, which killed one military public affairs officer and injured a pilot.
According to a preliminary investigation report released on Monday, military analysis of video footage of the takeoff and subsequent crash shows what investigators believe could be a bird “in very close proximity” to the right engine intake of the aircraft while it was taking off.
“The investigation is focusing on environmental factors (birdstrike) as well as the performance of the escape system,” the preliminary notice states.
Capt. Jennifer Casey died on May 17 after both she and the pilot ejected from the aircraft moments after takeoff during a cross-country tour designed to lift Canadians’ spirits amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The investigation remains ongoing.
The Snowbirds aircraft had taken off from Kamloops, B.C., on May 17 with the goal of heading to Comox on Vancouver Island as the next stage in that cross-country inspirational tour.
But moments after takeoff, the aircraft left its formation beside a second Snowbirds aircraft and dived steeply, which is when both Casey and Capt. Richard MacDougall ejected.
MacDougall survived but sustained serious injuries.
Casey, 35, died.
The crash marked the eighth fatal incident in the 50-year history of the acrobatic fleet.
It has prompted questions about whether the aging fleet should be retired and also about the safety and reliability of the ejection system used in the planes.
MacDougall ended up on the roof of a house following his ejection.
One witness to the crash claimed Casey’s parachute did not deploy and instead landed with MacDougall.
The Department of National Defence has not confirmed whether that was the case.
“This is not something we can confirm at this time, as it may be part of the flight safety investigation,” one official there said by email.
The Snowbirds are single-engine aircraft that were originally supposed to be retired in 2010.
That deadline was pushed to 2020 although defence officials have said that the fleet should be replaced “immediately.”
With files from Rachel D’Amore