Snowbird pilot was in worst possible scenario before crash, former Air Force pilot, trainer says - InfoNews

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Snowbird pilot was in worst possible scenario before crash, former Air Force pilot, trainer says

Image Credit: FACEBOOK / Canadian Forces Snowbirds
May 21, 2020 - 3:30 PM

When Snowbird 11 Capt. Richard MacDougall took off from Kamloops Airport May 17, he likely realized within moments he was about to experience engine failure in what a former Royal Canadian Air Force pilot and trainer says was the worst possible scenario. 

After watching video of the takeoff, corresponding actions and ensuing crash, Stephen Fuhr says MacDougall's options were extremely limited.

"He was low and slow and that is a terrible place to have a problem,” he said. "If a plane is high in the air when a problem occurs, they have more time to consider options. In this scenario, that was not the case."

Fuhr has flown 2500 hours in the CT-114 Tutor Jets used by the Snowbirds, and he spent years training new pilots how to fly them. Fuhr, who grew up in Kamloops and was also Kelowna-Lake Country MP from 2015 to 2019, said it appears MacDougall followed protocols to minimize the danger before the crash into the Kamloops neighbourhood of Brocklehurst, resulting in the death of passenger Capt. Jenn Casey, the team's public affairs officer. Both Casey and MacDougall managed to eject from the plane, but while Casey didn't survive, MacDougall landed on the roof of a home and miraculously survived but sustained injuries and is currently recovering in hospital.

While the Flight Safety Team has not yet confirmed the cause of the crash, Fuhr said judging by the footage, it appeared to be engine failure.

When a pilot faces this issue, they need to assess their situation and follow protocols accordingly.

Fuhr said Capt. MacDougall’s initial actions were in line with RCAF training.

READ MORE: Kamloops residents show support for officers on duty following Snowbird crash

"He zoomed out of the formation to avoid any kind of collision potential with the other airplane,” he said.

The pilot’s initial goal is to get away from hazards, which were in this case the other airplane and the ground, he said.

The next step is to try and restart the engine.

Fuhr explained there are typically three procedures to follow, and a pilot must choose one based on how much time they have. The first two procedures have a higher success rate, but take longer to perform.

The last one is used when the pilot has very little time to act.

Before Stephen Fuhr was Kelowna-Lake Country MP, he was a decorated pilot, officer and flight trainer, among many other roles in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Before Stephen Fuhr was Kelowna-Lake Country MP, he was a decorated pilot, officer and flight trainer, among many other roles in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Stephen Fuhr

"Given where he was in time and space, close to the ground, slow and not having barely any time… there’s a button he can push on the throttle,” he said.

READ MORE: 'It was smoky, it was chaotic': Kamloops residents describe Snowbirds crash

This is called the air start, which excites ignitors in the engine to restart it.

“If his engine’s not running at the time that he apexes in his zoom… It’s time to get out,” he said. “There’s no more time.”

In the Tutor jets, the highest probability for a successful ejection occurs when the aircraft is 150 feet above ground and an airspeed of 60 knots, at minimum.

"If you end up outside that ejection envelope, the odds of success go down dramatically,” Fuhr said.

READ MORE: 'It’s surreal and sad:' Kamloops neighbourhood bands together after snowbird plane crashes into home

He added that given sufficient altitude, pilots have the ability to perform a low-key, which is a forced-landing maneuver practiced in training.

However, he estimates that Capt. MacDougall was 800 to 900 feet too low to take that action.

Fuhr said it appears the parachutes consequently did not have enough time to inflate, based on the footage he has seen.

 

 

Some concerns have been raised regarding the age of the Snowbird Tutor jets, which were built in the 1960s.

However, Fuhr said that age is not a primary factor in the safety of an aircraft.

"When the plane is signed off by the maintainers as being serviceable, it’s as safe as it was the day it came off the production line,” he said.

While the plane may age, the safety standards it is required to meet are the same as the day it was built.

"The air force and the Snowbirds are expert maintainers,” he said. “We can have every confidence that the airplane that took off that day was airworthy and fit to fly.”

READ MORE: Snowbird crash: Video shows ejections from plane before crash in Kamloops neighbourhood

Although an aircraft may still fail, the possibility is reduced to the point where the odds are very remote.

"The only thing that really determines the lifespan of an airplane is fatigue on the airframe itself,” he said.

As long as the frame meets safety standards, maintenance can be done on the rest of the plane indefinitely.

While the knee-jerk reaction may be to replace all old planes with new ones, Fuhr said this isn’t necessary.

"We see new planes crash,” he said. "These things can happen, and the age of the aircraft isn't necessarily going to play a big factor in the reason why."

The investigation into the Snowbird crash is ongoing, and the cause of the crash has yet to be released.

There are multiple avenues through which flight safety officers can gather information, Fuhr said.

They will look through the paperwork detailing the maintenance history of the plane, inspect the physical components recovered from the crash, study video footage of the incident and conduct interviews with witnesses and the pilot.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Brie Welton or call (250) 819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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