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Snowbirds plane crashes

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THUNDER BAY -- A jet from the storied Snowbirds aerobatics squadron fell from the sky yesterday while making its way to an air show in this northern Ontario city, crashing in a rural field just seconds after its pilot ejected safely.

The commanding officer of the Canadian Forces Snowbirds said Capt. Andy Mackay, the No. 8 Snowbird pilot, was treated in hospital for undisclosed injuries and released.

Maj. Ian McLean said it was believed the downed aircraft lost engine thrust, "meaning the aircraft did not have the propulsion to stay in the air at that time."

"The only thing that (Mackay) was able to communicate on the cellphone very briefly is that he received a loss of thrust at the time," McLean said.

"He took the appropriate checklist actions at that time and was unable to regain sufficient thrust to keep the aircraft in the air. He determined that it was time to eject from the aircraft."

McLean said the crash occurred as Snowbirds engaged in routine "shakeout manoeuvres" -- done before performances to ensure the aircraft are working properly.

"Obviously, the procedures paid off in this case," said McLean, adding the fiery crash took place in a secluded area far from people.

Witness accounts of the crash suggest the plane plummeted suddenly.

"I saw one of the planes immediately turn towards the ground and go at a very high speed directly at the ground and disappear," witness Scott Dougall told CKPR radio in Thunder Bay.

"After that I saw a puff of smoke come up from the ground and I also saw a parachute at about 5,000, 6,000 feet in the air."

"It looked like somebody had ejected and the plane crashed into the ground," Dougall said.

An organizer for the air show, called Thunder in the Air, said the plane crashed just before the show was to start at 5:30 p.m. The event was cancelled just 10 minutes later when the accident was announced.

Local resident Dennis Trevisanutto Jr., who was standing on the deck of his home when he saw the crash, said he rescued the pilot after he saw the parachute descending.

"I was standing on the deck and I saw the plane going over and we heard . . . a loud explosion," he said.

"And I looked out and I could see him parachuting down into the woods. So I thought I'd take a ride over there and see if I could find him or pick him up . . . (I) ended up wandering around in the bush there and I spotted him, and he seemed to be OK.

"When I first saw him, I asked if he was OK and he said yes and said his engines failed."

Mackay, 39, arrived at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre about 40 minutes after the crash.

He walked into the emergency department under his own power, carrying his helmet and wearing a muddied red flight suit.

Five other Snowbirds pilots joined Mackay in his hospital room.

"He looks great," Maj. Cory Blakely said outside the emergency room doors.

"He's in good spirits and looks just like we saw him a couple of hours ago."

The air show had been scheduled to take place at Marina Park, by the city's downtown harbour on the northern shore of Lake Superior.

The Snowbirds are next scheduled to perform in St. Catharines on Saturday and Sunday, but it was not immediately known if the shows would still go ahead.

They are also slated to fly at the Canadian International Air Show in Toronto on Labour Day weekend.

The accident is certain to prompt renewed concerns about both the safety and the value of the internationally renowned Snowbirds, who are marking their 35th anniversary this year.

Defence Minister Bill Graham wouldn't say whether yesterday's crash will endanger the future of program.

"Until we know exactly what happened, it's very difficult to evaluate the risk factors," he said from Ottawa. "It's too early to give the cause. We're still trying to ascertain that."

The jets the Snowbirds fly, Canadair CT-114 Tutors, are more than 30 years old. The last one came off the assembly line in 1966 -- before most of the pilots were born.

However, the pilots have defended the program, saying the aircraft are safe and the shows they put on are part of the Canadian cultural fabric.

The last Snowbird crash occurred on Dec. 10, 2004, when Capt. Miles Selby died in a fiery collision with colleague Capt. Chuck Mallet during a training session just south of their Moose Jaw, Sask., home base. Mallet survived the accident.

The team is comprised of Canadian Forces pilots.

McLean, a Londoner, began leading the squad last November.

McLean's mother, Jessie McLean, said last night her son called her in London immediately after the crash to reassure her he was OK.

"He always calls me as soon as something happens to let me know he's fine," she said.

"He just said, 'Mom, there's been an accident, but I'm OK and so is everyone else,' " she said.



blink.gif Dang... I wonder if the plane had a malfunction or something because you don't get to be on the top for being a crappy pilot. (hence him saying the engines failed, laugh.gif ) Thankfully he is alright and nobody on the ground was hurt.

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The planes were built in the 50s, im surpised theyve held up this long, i say the best airobadicts team should get some new planes, maybe the new training planes Canada has.

Anywho, glad the pilot is ok.


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