The Canadian Forces pilot killed in a Snowbirds jet crash during rehearsal for weekend performances at Malmstrom Air Force Base was to be married next month in Montreal, the unit’s commanding officer said Saturday.
Capt. Shawn McCaughey, 31, of Candiac, Quebec, died Friday afternoon when his jet — flying upside down in a four-plane formation — broke from the cluster of Snowbirds and hurtled 300 feet to the ground.
Maj. Robert Mitchell, who was flying lead plane in the formation, said a bridal shower had been scheduled for McCaughey’s fiancee Saturday, which also is her birthday. He and other Snowbird pilots had planned to attend the couple’s June 9 wedding.
McCaughey’s fiancee, whom Mitchell declined to identify, and family members were still in shock and looking for an explanation, he said.
“We just had to say we don’t entirely know, which is tough for a family member,” Mitchell said. “They want to know for closure.”
McCaughey’s father, Ken, told The Canadian Press his son had dreamed of becoming a pilot since he was a little boy. When McCaughey joined the Snowbirds two years ago, he described it as “the best job in the world,” his father said.
Ken McCaughey did not immediately return a message left by The Associated Press at his Candiac home Saturday.
Air show goes on
The team had been in the air for about 45 minutes when the crash occurred, said Mitchell. McCaughey made no radio contact and didn’t indicate he was having trouble, he said.
McCaughey, the only person in the single-engine jet, did not eject. He was the sixth Snowbirds pilot killed in a crash since 1972, the year after the team was formed.
“Shawn was a professional officer, talented pilot and dear friend,” Mitchell said. “Our team is devastated, and we will miss him.”
Malmstrom crews worked late into the night combing the crash site for debris, and resumed early Saturday before the public began arriving at the base for the open house and air show, said U.S. Air Force Capt. Elizabeth Mathias, a base spokeswoman.
A Canadian Forces flight safety team arrived Saturday afternoon to investigate the crash, but would not comment to the media. Snowbirds team members, who spent Friday night at Malmstrom, planned to remain there “indefinitely” to help with the investigation, Mitchell said. He said the team had not decided when to resume flying.
The Snowbirds perform high-speed, low-altitude maneuvers in nine Canadair CT-114 Tutors and are part of the Canadian Air Force. The team had been scheduled to perform Saturday and Sunday at Malmstrom and at an air show in British Columbia on Wednesday.
Attendees observed a moment of silence before Saturday’s aerial demonstrations, which included all scheduled performers except the Snowbirds. Officials expected crowds of up to 5,000 each day despite the crash.
In a statement Saturday, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper called McCaughey “a positive role model and goodwill ambassador who truly personified the professionalism and dedication of all the women and men who make up our Canadian Forces.”
The Snowbirds are the Canadian counterparts to the U.S. Air Force’s Thunderbirds and the Navy’s Blue Angels. They fly almost daily, year-round — logging 3,700 hours annually.
A Blue Angels pilot died in a crash last month in Beaufort, S.C.