'Extremely excited': Canadian Snowbirds return to Vancouver Island for training
COMOX -- They’ve returned for their annual training season, but team members of the iconic Canadian Snowbirds team know this will be a very different session.
The team arrived in Comox late Tuesday afternoon in preparation for twice-daily practices that will continue here until May 26.
“We are extremely excited to go and see the airshows and see the population of Canada. It’s just going to be a weird season for everyone I think,” said team public affairs officer Cpt. Gabriel Ferris.
The main difference for the team this year will be the absence of interaction with members of the public due to COVID-19 precautions.
“We’re kind of going on the opposite end of what we’re used to. The team is usually bringing people around, talking close with people, meeting people and having autograph sessions,” he said.
Restrictions this year means no events in close proximity to the public and the request for team fans to not gather at their usual locations, such as Air Force Beach near the Comox base.
“We have to make sure that we don’t attract any crowds,” Ferris said. “We understand that people are still going to be gathering so we ask people to be following the (federal and provincial) guidelines.”
Ferris says the team is still dealing with the crash a year ago in Kamloops where one of their Tudor jets experienced a bird-strike on take-off. Both the aircraft’s pilot and the team’s public affairs officer ejected when the aircraft lost power, but because of the low altitude, Cpt. Richard MacDougall was seriously injured and PAO Cpt. Jenn Casey was killed.
Ferris says the team is receiving “really great support like padres, health-care workers and psychologists.” He also says various new training protocols for low-speed, high-danger areas are in place following the crash.
Half of the team members are different for the 2021/2022 season, many of which didn’t initially expect to be called into action.
Victoria’s Ave Pyne is a captain who flew with the team from 2015 to 2017.
“This is very unusual. After the accident and through an unfortunate series of events for a few other people who are not able to continue with the team, they asked old team members to come back,” he said.
He is back on the team again in the Snowbird Three, Inner Left Wing position.
“This is a once-in-a lifetime (opportunity) that somehow rolled around for a second time,” he said.
Pyne says it’s good to have those experienced members return in this unusual year.
“It had made our training season somewhat almost easier, but the one complicating factor is where we normally start our training season in October, this year we were starting in January,” said Pyne.
The team can be seen over the skies of Comox twice daily until May 26.
A previous version of this story said Cpt. Ave Pyne was the team's public affairs officer. In fact, it is Cpt. Gabriel Ferris.