Snowbird pilot killed in mid-air collision

December 11th, 2004  

Topic: Snowbird pilot killed in mid-air collision

MOOSE JAW, Sask. (CP) - One pilot from the Canadian Forces' famed Snowbirds team was killed Friday and a second suffered minor injuries in a mid-air collision between two jets during a routine training flight in Saskatchewan.

The dead pilot, Capt. Miles Selby, 31, of Delta, B.C., was a two-year veteran of the Snowbirds and had flown CF-18 fighter jets during combat missions in Kosovo.

"We will regroup and spend some time thinking about our loss," said Col. Alain Boyer, commanding officer at 15 Wing, the aerobatic squadron's home base in Moose Jaw. "That's our focus right now."

Injured in the collision was Capt. Chuck Mallett, 35, of Edmonton.

The crash occurred in clear skies near Mossbank, about 65 kilometres south of Moose Jaw.

It came six years to the day after the last fatal Snowbird crash in which Capt. Michael VandenBos, 29, died after two planes collided near Moose Jaw. The other pilot in that accident was able to safely return to base.

Jackie Geis was atop a haystack in her farmyard throwing down bales for her cattle around 10 a.m. when she heard a loud boom "like a shotgun going off in the distance - just make it a lot louder."

Her dogs started to bark and she looked up.

"As soon as I looked up to the sky, I knew exactly what happened. There was the two puffs of smoke - the big, black one to the left and not quite as big a one on the right.

"But the one on the right - you could see it was a plane. It was coming down.

"I saw the pilot ejecting, coming down with his parachute open.

"They weren't real high. When he came out with the parachute I could see him sitting in (his seat).

"It was terrible."

She didn't see the other pilot eject.

The force of the impact spread debris from the two Tutor jets over about 10 square kilometres of open, rolling prairie near Mossbank. Much of it fell on a Second World War-era pilot training facility, with a sizable chunk of what used to be Mallett's plane landing right beside one of the old runways.

The twisted, charred wreckage was barely identifiable. Only scraps of bright red and white paint on the blackened metal hinted that the scattered bits and pieces were once a sleek aerobatic jet.

Crews in orange jumpsuits rummaged through the snow and brush for more wreckage. The scene was still being treated cautiously Friday afternoon because all the explosives from the plane's ejection seat hadn't been identified.

Col. Steve Will said all proper procedures were followed when it became clear something had happened.

"Obviously the first concern is for the pilots who are airborne," Will told a news conference. "We launch aircraft and have emergency procedures to get to the pilots quickly as possible.

"Our concern at that point is to recover any other aircraft that are airborne and get all our people safely on the ground, and then get out to our people that are on the ground that have been involved in the accident as quickly as possible to render first aid."