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Canadian Snowbird aircraft ‘incident’ reported at northern B.C. airport

First responders were called to the North Peace Regional Airport in Fort St. John, B.C., on Tuesday afternoon to respond to what officials are describing as an “aviation incident.”

In a social media post, the Fort St. John International Air Show said the Snowbird aircraft went down during takeoff.

Canadian Armed Forces Public Affairs Officer Major Trevor Reid confirmed Tuesday an incident occurred involving the CT-114 Tutor aircraft.

The jet, which had completed a weekend show in the remote city in the northeastern part of the province, apparently stalled on takeoff, a defence source told CBC’s Murray Brewster.

The pilot managed to turn the jet around, return to the airfield and landed, but the aircraft blew past the end of the runway, said the source, who was familiar with the accident but not authorized to speak publicly.

A Snowbird aircraft down in a field
A Canadian Forces Snowbird aircraft went down after takeoff from the North Peace Regional Airport on Aug. 2, 2022. (Dave Lueneberg/Alaska Highway News)

Reid said two Snowbirds were in town for the air show over the weekend. They are scheduled to be in Penticton, about 1,100 kilometres south of Fort St. John, this coming weekend.

Reid said it’s too early to say what caused the incident and an investigation is underway. It’s unclear how long the investigation will take, but he said the results would be made public.

According to Reid, the pilot did not sustain physical injuries. B.C. Emergency Health Services told CBC the pilot was taken to hospital in stable condition to be assessed.

In a statement, the City of Fort St. John says by the time firefighters arrived, the fire had been extinguished by the airport’s fire department. 

“We certainly are very appreciative of the swift response by the Fort St. John airport fire rescue services,” Reid said.

“Despite all of the safety precautions that are taken, incidents do happen, and it’s heartbreaking in the air show world,” the Fort St. John International Air Show said. 

Officials are asking local residents to avoid the area as emergency crews continue to work.

Several appearances by the Snowbirds have been cancelled this year because of a problem with the aircraft’s ejection parachute deployment. 

On May 17, 2020, a CT-114 Tutor Snowbird aircraft went down in Kamloops, B.C., killing Capt. Jenn Casey, a public affairs officer with the Snowbirds, and seriously injuring pilot Capt. Richard MacDougall. A bird strike was determined to be the cause of that crash.

Aviation journalist Mark Miller told CBC that while many are quick to point out the age of Snowbirds’ jets and concerns around safety, he couldn’t recall a time there’s been a maintenance issue with a Snowbird jet in the past 10 years.

“Any time something happens with an aircraft, even a minor incident, it gets attention,” he said.

Miller, who has been in Snowbird jets “many, many times,” said the age of an airplane is determined by the number of hours they’ve been flown, as opposed to the number of years it’s been in operation. 

“If there was a problem, I know that we would hear that … from people who are retired and no longer flying the jets. They would be calling for its replacement,” he said. “But we don’t have that happening.”

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