Trauma from Snowbird crash remains for Kamloops neighbourhood long after debris cleared | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Trauma from Snowbird crash remains for Kamloops neighbourhood long after debris cleared

The memorial set up at Kamloops Airport for Capt. Casey, MacDougall and the Snowbirds.
June 12, 2020 - 7:30 AM

Sam and Betty Popoff were relaxing at home May 17 when they heard a loud noise, followed by a scream.

The noise was from a Snowbird plane that had just crashed into their Brocklehurst neighbourhood. The scream was from their daughter who saw it happen from the family home.

“I was in the office and I heard a big bang and then a horrendous crash… I opened the office window and there was smoke out there, and I could hear (daughter) Alana screaming… she saw the capsule come down. The pilot landed on the neighbour’s roof,” Sam says. 

They could see the smoke from the wreckage on Glenview Avenue. Their daughter, who lives with them, was in another area of the home and saw Capt. Richard MacDougall yelling for help from her next-door neighbour’s roof. They didn't know it yet, but Capt. Jenn Casey landed on the same property as MacDougall but died from her injuries.

The Popoffs live on the corner of Glenview Avenue and Schreiner Street and saw the chaos of the Snowbird plane crash all around them. For them and many of their neighbours, the crash is threatening to change their lives.

Their daughter was not up for talking further about the incident, although Sam and Betty say it has had a profound impact on the whole family and is bringing flashbacks and troubled nights.

“At the time, it seems surreal. It has happened but you haven’t really internalized it yet but then when you start to sit down, maybe try to read a book or the paper, all of a sudden it just hits you. It’s like an ongoing film that just keeps on coming back, and the darndest things will just ignite another memory. You just don’t get away from it,” Betty says.

READ MORE: Canadians honour Capt. Jenn Casey

The couple says they haven’t yet spoken to a counsellor or therapist about the incident, although they were given a card for such services by a military personnel.

Jillian Sheppard is a therapist in Kamloops who often works with people who have dealing with trauma and is hoping residents there are getting the help they need. The crash site has been cleaned up, the Air Force investigators have come and gone, but living with the memories won't be easy. Not for everybody.

“Some people, they have a traumatic incident and then their brain processes it really well. Sometimes things don’t process so well, and then it can get stuck and it can get triggered by other things… say they heard the airplane noises, then in the future anytime they hear an airplane noise, their (nervous)system could get triggered again,” Sheppard says.

The neighbourhood is roughly two kilometres away from Kamloops Airport. Talking to residents in the area, the impact is clear, even among people who politely decline interviews with tears in their eyes.

Betty says the sounds of planes overhead can be a reminder of the crash. The couple say although they are thankful that no one on the ground was injured, they can’t help but imagine what could’ve happened to their neighbours Sandy and Bud who live in the home where the plane crashed.

“It scared the crap out of me...  after that, I couldn’t sleep. I keep thinking if it came down a few feet one way or the other, it could’ve killed Sandy and Bud or it could’ve nailed us,” Sam says.

Sandy and Bud were both uninjured during the crash, although a dazed and shoeless Sandy showed up at the Popoff’s after the crash. According to their neighbours, the couple moved in with family after the crash and is now living in an Airbnb, and it's believed will likely sell their property. iNFOnews.ca has not been able to contact the couple.

Capt. Jenn Casey was killed after the Snowbird plane crashed on May 17, 2020.
Capt. Jenn Casey was killed after the Snowbird plane crashed on May 17, 2020.
Image Credit: TWITTER / @CFSnowbirds

Rose Miller lives near the Popoffs and witnessed the plane crashing into Sandy and Bud’s house across the street.

“I heard (the Snowbirds) coming so I thought, ‘Oh I’ll look out the window and watch,’” Miller says. “Usually, I’d go upstairs, but I didn’t have time because I was down here and heard them, so I thought I might as well just run to this window, the front window. I wish I wouldn’t have now.”

“When it first happened, I heard this great big loud pop… two seconds later, crash. That was terrible to watch that… it caught on fire right away but then I didn’t look anymore because I ran to dial 911,” Miller says.

READ MORE: Snowbirds crash likely caused by bird strike

READ MORE: Residents recount moments of panic during Snowbird crash

That night was difficult for those in the community as they adjusted to security, police and military personnel on their streets. Many were told to stay indoors while crews scoured the ground for debris. An ejected seat had landed in Miller’s yard and she had security outside of her house for two days. She says the first night was particularly difficult for her husband.

“He was worse than me. He doesn’t usually drink, but he had about five beers because he was so upset over it. I was upset, but I didn’t drink or anything because it didn’t call for that as far as I’m concerned,” Miller says.

She says she too can’t stop thinking about how disastrous the event might’ve been had the plane landed somewhere else.

“It was a miracle. An absolute miracle. It could’ve hit right on the roof and killed Bud and Sandy.”

The effects of the crash were felt far beyond Glenview Avenue, and Miller is one of many residents who immediately got calls from family members and friends.

“My son called me and he was almost crying because he thought it was our house. He said, ‘I saw it was on Glenview Avenue and I saw your house,’” Miller says.

Credit: FACEBOOK / Erin O'Toole

Spencer Martin lives on Glenview Avenue with his father Tom but was away when the accident happened.

“I was in Vancouver for it while my dad was here,” Spencer says. “I was pretty scared because I heard from my buddy that lives in (Batchelor Heights). I was in Vancouver so I gave my dad a quick call because I didn’t know… it was pretty scary because they said it hit Glenview, which could’ve been anywhere.”

Sheppard says in her experience as a trauma therapist, she’s learned that each individual processes traumatic events differently, but some can be much harder hit due to past experiences.

“Sometimes it’ll manifest, like people have bad dreams, especially if they’ve had other events in their life that were traumatic, this might trigger some past trauma for people. I would assume that everybody is at a different place with their trauma,” Sheppard says. “Even though it was in the same area, some people might have seen it, some people might have heard it, hearing other people talk about it and it brings up something in their past.”

Joanne Chapman is one of those people who is currently struggling, as the event reminds her of the death of her own daughter.

Chapman chose not to be quoted, although she was willing to share her story.

The house where the pilots landed has been sitting empty because the owner is in a seniors facility. The Chapmans mow the lawn and keep the gardens, and their once-peaceful area has taken on a new meaning. She now thinks of her late daughter as well as her niece who was in a plane crash in Yellowknife but survived. Most of all, she feels for the parents of the deceased Casey. She plans to plant a rose bush in the yard to commemorate the fallen Snowbird and hopes that the City might consider making the abandoned home a park in Casey’s honour.

READ MORE: Online petition to change street name honour Capt. Jenn Casey might not be in City of Kamloops plans

READ MORE: Video footage shows the moment Snowbird plane took off, crashed

Sheppard says each person will handle such an event differently depending on their relationship to the event, and she shared some advice for the family and friends of those affected.

“Asking people if they’re okay talking about it is really important. Not everybody is going to want to talk about it, and pushing people to relive it if they’re feeling triggered by it or traumatized by it… you don’t want to rush in and ask questions that may cause trauma or trigger them.”

We tried to follow her advice in interviewing Glenview residents for this story.

For Gordon Warner, the crash impacted him both because of his history with aviation and his close ties with Bud.

"I walked down the street to see whose house it was, and when I saw it was a friend of mine’s house, I wanted to check with somebody and see if they got out okay,” Warner says.

Warner says Bud is a retired air traffic controller, and the two spent a lot of time together when Warner was a skydiver. Warner still loves watching the planes go by, but last fall he thinks he saw the moment before his close friend died in a skydiving accident.

“In the fall there when the skydiver was killed, Don Campbell, he was another good friend of mine, a very close friend. When I’m out in my yard I always look up, because being a former skydiver, I watch them jump all the time… I had watched the plane go by and skydivers get out, and then I went into the house and then I came back out a few minutes later and the plane had already gone down to pick up some more (skydivers), and then I heard sirens. The next day I heard Don was the skydiver that had just been killed, and I thought, ‘I was watching his plane just before he died,’” Warner says. “Maybe it’s a good thing I’m not really seeing all of these things, but just witnessing them after.”

Warner says the crash also brought back the memory of another friend’s death, who died while skydiving near Kelowna in the 80s.

“It just brings back all those tragedies that you’ve been involved with,” Warner says.

READ MORE: Memorial services for Kamloops lawyer Don Campbell

One of the things that troubled Warner was the amount of people who immediately rushed to the scene, and those who later drove by to look at the scene. He posted a photo of his friend Bud’s house and shared it to a local Facebook group in hopes it would quell the curiosity.

“People were saying, ‘yeah we feel for you on the block and we try to avoid it,’ and then there were other people that said, ‘it’s our right. If we want to go and see it, we'll go and see it. You don’t own that block.’”

Gordon isn’t alone in being disturbed by the onlookers. His neighbour Greig Reid was shocked to see the wave of people that flooded the street after the crash.

Reid was barbecuing dinner when he saw the plane take off and do what he thought was an unusual manoeuvre.

“I’ve been around aircraft for most of my childhood, my dad ran the airport in Calgary and we went to all the air shows. I just knew right away there was something not right,” Reid says. “I saw the ejection capsules, but after that, I didn’t see anything but I felt it and heard it land.”

What disturbed Reid more than the crash was the number of people on foot and in vehicles who quickly filled up the street, making it impossible for emergency vehicles to get through.

For Reid, the impact of May 17 isn’t as hard-hitting, which he says could be due in part to the large tree blocking his view of the crash site.

While some people declined interviews with tears in their eyes, Reid was happy that no one in the neighbourhood was hurt or killed.

“It didn’t affect us that badly, it was shocking and people ask and you have to explain where it happened and how it happened but that’s about it,” Reid says. “I told my wife, ‘hey, it didn’t crash into our house, and maybe we'll have nothing but good luck now.’”

Sheppard recommends that people who are affected by the tragedy focus on their five senses as a grounding technique, in addition to counselling if necessary.

This story was originally published June 11, 2020. 


To contact a reporter for this story, email Jenna Wheeler or call (250) 819-6089 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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