The Canadian Forces have confirmed that the crash killed Capt. Jennifer Casey of Halifax, the squadron’s public affairs officer

A Canadian Forces Snowbird tour meant to lift spirits has been marked by tragedy after a jet crashed in a residential area of Kamloops on Sunday, killing a member of the Snowbirds team and injuring another.

Capt. Jennifer Casey, the squadron’s public affairs officer, was killed in the crash, while Capt. Richard MacDougall, the pilot of the aircraft, was being treated for his injuries that the Snowbirds said are not life-threatening.

Casey joined the Canadian Forces in 2014 and was based out of Trenton, Ont., after working in radio as a reporter, anchor and producer in her hometown of Halifax and Belleville, Ont., according to her Royal Canadian Air Force bio. She spent most of 2018 with the CF-18 Demo Team, travelling around North America and the United Kingdom with the NORAD 60 jet. She joined the Snowbirds in November 2018.

MacDougall landed on the roof of a house on nearby Schreiner Street after ejecting from the jet.

Operation Inspiration started in Nova Scotia earlier this month and features the team’s signature nine-jet formation. It was aimed at boosting morale as Canadians continue to struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Sunday, plane fanatics and families gathered under grey skies for what was to be an exhilarating show. Instead, locals watched as a jet veered up and circled back before diving into the ground.

Just after 11:30 a.m., two jets took off from Kamloops Airport, bound for Kelowna as part of Operation Inspiration. One jet was seen in video footage turning upward seconds after take-off and doubling back before crashing in an area near Glenview Avenue.

The footage also shows two specks ejecting from the jet, though no parachute could be seen deployed. Other images posted online also show the burning wreckage of the plane on the lawn of a home.

“Canadians look at the Snowbirds as a source of joy and an exhibition of the incredible feats that our people in uniform are capable of,” Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan said in a statement. “Operation Inspiration was intended to lift the spirit of Canadians at this difficult time and the Snowbirds accomplished their mission. I know that all Canadians grieve this tragic loss.”

“For the past two weeks, the Snowbirds have been flying across the country to lift up Canadians during these difficult times,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement. “Every day, they represent the very best of Canada and demonstrate excellence through incredible skill and dedication.”

Witnesses nearby told reporters there was smoke rising from the crash site and emergency vehicles descending on the area, while a home near the plane was on fire.

Gurjit Sidhu witnessed the crash and told KTW a pilot was seen on the roof of a house, reportedly with back and/or neck injuries.

“I just saw, in the sky, something falling. I saw a pilot ejected, then I heard a big noise, like a bomb,” Sidhu said.

Another witness, a Kamloops man who did not wish to have his name published, said he was at the airport for an hour before the crash to watch the Snowbirds squadron take off as they were to continue their cross-Canada tour by heading to Vancouver lsland.

He said two jets took off together and all looked normal as they rose above the airport.

“All of a sudden, one of the planes suddenly went up, straight up, quite high, then it started dropping and doing a barrel roll,” he said. “It did a few spirals and I saw the ejector seat pop out. Then I saw a big fireball, an explosion.”

He said those watching the planes take off initially did not realize anything was wrong as the one Snowbird began climbing vertically, then descended with barrel rolls.

“We thought it was going to do some kind of cool trick,” he said. “It was incredible. I can’t believe I saw it.

Kamloops resident Rob McCaskill was at the Brock Shopping Centre when he spotted two of the jets taking off from the Kamloops Airport. He said he saw the two jets part in different directions not long after leaving the ground. He looked away and then shortly afterwards, heard a ‘pop’ sound.

Doug Barclay was in his Brocklehurst backyard, cleaning up after his dogs.

“I’d heard the jets take off and I wanted to watch them,” he said, noting he saw trouble with the second jet.

“It starts doing what I thought was a roll. It was about 100 feet off the ground. They were that far off the ground. Then the canopy goes off, the ejector seat comes out, then there was an explosion, a fire shot out. A big bang. Then the plane went down. I just started praying and I texted my Bible study group. I said pray for everybody. It was awful.”

Rose Miller lives on Glenview, where the jet crashed into a house.

“I saw the planes coming, so I got up and looked out the window and I saw the plane come down. It just happened so fast. I ran right away and phoned 911. I couldn’t believe it. I yelled, ‘Oh, my God!’ and I ran to the phone right away.”

Marni Capostinsky said she lives across the street from the crash site and was out on the deck when she heard the plane getting closer.

“We ran out under the cover to look and saw something black coming towards us, everyone hit the deck it was so loud,” she said.

Capostinsky said there were large flames flaring on and off and a strong toxic smell filled the air. She said her son immediately ran out with a hose and neighbours tried to help before first responders arrived.

“It was really scary but good to see everyone trying to come together,” Capostinsky said.

Gen. Jonathan Vance, chief of the defence staff, tweeted his condolences to all those affected.

“To all Snowbirds past and present, and their families, you have my deepest sympathies on behalf of all ranks of the Canadian Armed Forces,” he wrote.

Police asked anyone who may have captured the crash on video to contact investigators at 250-828-3000.

The Snowbirds aerobatics team was scheduled to make a trip departing from Kamloops Sunday as part of Operation Inspiration during the COVID-19 pandemic. The scheduled start was delayed because of rain and low visibility.

“OKANAGAN: We know some areas are starting to clear up, however transit through some of the mountain passes have very low cloud cover which is unsafe for flying 9 jets. We are going to preposition to Comox to start working our way west,” read an update on Sunday morning posted to the CF Snowbirds Twitter account.

Operation Inspiration followed a similar initiative south of the border, where the U.S. military’s own flight demonstration teams have been flying in honour of front-line workers and first responders.

It is the second crash involving the military’s famed aerobatic team in less than a year. Sunday’s crash follows the downing of another Snowbird in the U.S. state of Georgia last October, where the team was scheduled to perform in an air show.

Capt. Kevin Domon-Grenier sustained minor injuries when he ejected from the plane, which crashed into a farmer’s field. No one else was hurt.

The Snowbirds have performed at air shows across Canada and the U.S. for decades and are considered a key tool for raising awareness about – and recruiting for – the air force. Eleven aircraft are used during shows, with nine flying and two kept as spares.

The air force obtained its Tutor jets in 1963 and has used them in air demonstrations since 1971. Prior to Sunday’s crash, seven pilots and one passenger had been killed and several aircraft had been lost over the course of the Snowbirds’ history.

No information has been shared about the Snowbirds’ plans for the remainder of the tour.

–with files from Canadian Press, Kamloops This Week