Former Snowbird leader mourns jet crash victim

B.C.’s George Miller predicts this could – but he hopes it doesn’t – spell the demise of his old team

If Langley’s George Miller had known about it in time, he might very well have asked to fly among the 35 pilots performing a memorial Snowbirds flyby over the Lower Mainland skies tonight.

Miller, a retired Canadian Air Force pilot and one of the early Snowbirds leaders, was mortified to learn of Sunday’s plane crash in Kamloops, which killed Capt. Jennifer Casey, shortly after takeoff.

RELATED: B.C. pilots to honour Snowbirds member killed in crash with Lower Mainland flyover

“Just watching that, knowing what she must have gone through. She obviously just bailed out way too late,” he said, admitting he watched the video of the crash over and over again trying to determine what must have gone wrong.

It’s been almost 50 years since he flew with the Snowbirds, in the same CT-114Tutor jets flown today.

Miller fears the age of the aircraft might have played a key role in the tragic crash that killed Casey and seriously injured pilot Capt. Richard MacDougall.

Just like others, Miller is in the dark about what actually caused the crash. He speculates it could have been a technical or mechanical issue.

“The tragic thing is that we’ve been flying this aircraft since 1963. What other nation would fly them that long?” he posed.

Miller said that along with another accident in Atlanta last October – where a pilot ejected unhurt – this fatal crash in the B.C. Interior is likely to confirm the high-performance jets are overdue for retirement.

“They’ve got to determine if it’s worth flying these aircraft, keeping these going, and keeping it going,” Miller said.

“And because of COVID-19 and the expenditures of the federal government right now – ones it’s already committed to – there’s not going to be money to buy new aircraft. That’s my feeling,” Miller assessed.

MORE: Snowbirds pause flights as military, public mourn service member killed in crash

“And, of course, with the 50th anniversary [of the Snowbirds this year], if they’re ever thinking of shutting this team down, this could be it,” he added, emphasizing that he has no inside knowledge.

Miller believes the Snowbirds will be shuttered or transformed from a military to civilian team.

That’s simply conjecture on his part, he reiterated, clarifying that the first job at hand will be to investigate the cause of the crash, and figure out why it stalled and barrelled down to the ground.

Miller is wondering why the two didn’t eject sooner, what caused that delay, and why Casey’s parachute never opened?

“They’ll have to go through that whole process, like how did it work out? What could have been done better? And whether there was any mistakes made, or what the mechanical problems were, and so on. Then determine what to be done with the team,” Miller said.

“There’s just no sense that they will get another aircraft, so what do they do?” he pondered.

“I think it would be very brave of the Prime Minister, since there’s so much money spent anyways, that he put some money behind this and keep the team going. I don’t know, but that doesn’t seem to be the nature of the way things are happening.”

This comes from a long-time member of the Canadian Air Force. In fact, Miller served 35 years – including a stint as the first national team leader of the Snowbirds in 1973 to 1974.

In more recent years, he served as manager of the Langley Regional Airport, worked a short stint with the Pitt Meadows Airport, and founded the Fraser Blues formation flying team.

While he’s fully retired now, Miller still heads up the Langley-based aerobatic team. They’re a four-member team, including his son Guy Miller, who still perform at a number of special events including missing man formations, large funerals, and the 75-aircraft flyby during Langley airport’s 75th anniversary a few years back.

Fraser Blues typically fly once a week or so. In particular, they’ve been flying the past four Fridays, Miller noted.

“Because of COVID-19, I’ve been trying to do sort of inspirational flights. Sort of the same idea as the Snowbirds, actually. We’ve been flying over various towns, like over Langley… and do special manoeuvres over the airport.”

Miller heard nothing about the tribute flight into Vancouver until late in the day on Monday, but said the Fraser Blues – when they get back together again next to fly – might very well do a tribute flypast over Langley.

RELATED: George Miller named to Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame

Tonight, planes will take off from Abbotsford’s airport at 6:30 p.m, and fly over Langley, White Rock, Surrey, Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, Coquitlam, Port Moody, the North Shore, Vancouver and Burnaby before dispersing to their home airports.

The flight is being dubbed Operation Backup Inspiration, since – when the crash occurred – the Snowbirds were conducting a cross-country tour to uplift Canadians during the coronavirus outbreak.

– with Black Press Media files

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