Canadian authorities have known for at least five years that the seatbelts in the CT-114 Tutor jets used by the Snowbirds could come open in flight because there was an incident in 2002 similar to the one that led to the most recent fatal crash.
Capt. Shawn McCaughey died in late May after his restraint came undone while he rolled inverted and he lost control of the aircraft during a rehearsal for a show in Great Falls, Mont. According to the Toronto Globe and Mail, in 2002, Snowbird Capt. Robert Reichert also fell out of his seat when the belt unfastened while he was inverted. He was able to recover.
However, nothing was done to modify the restraints in the meantime and it wasn’t until after McCaughey’s death that a parachute arming key that is part of the seatbelt latch mechanism was modified to prevent it from interfering with the proper closing of the latch. The team’s executive officer Maj. Cory Blakely told the Globe and Mail all Snowbird pilots were award of the belt problem.
Blakely said the military was in the process of fixing the problem when McCaughey crashed. “It’s definitely something that we were aware of, and I know the system was working on it. The time frame of it was definitely unfortunate,” he said. The ongoing investigation into the crash will examine the timeline of the belt fix, he said. Blakely said he usually double-checks his restraint to ensure it’s properly latched. McCaughey’s father Ken told CTV News that his son complained to him about the seatbelts before the accident. Meanwhile Canadian politicians representing opposition parties in the government are calling for someone to be held accountable for the lack of action on the belt problem. “There really was negligence here and there has to be someone who is held responsible,” said Bloc Quebecois Member of Parliament Claude Bachand.
Incredible isn’t it that the boss of the team allowed them to carry on flying when the problem was known about. He would be the last backstop in the safety chain. One of the givens in the aerobatic game is that the seat straps will hold you in the aircraft. Take that confidence away and you are not left with much.
Difficult to be too prescriptive about this without all the facts but as the Canadian Parliament asserts, someone must be held accountable for negligence which has cost lives.