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Canadian Jet Crashes In Air Show Rehearsal

Air crews continued Saturday to investigate the fatal crash of a Canadian Forces Snowbirds jet during rehearsal for weekend performances at a U.S. Air Force base in Montana. The pilot was killed.

The plane, one of five practicing maneuvers over Malmstrom Air Force Base, broke from formation and plummeted Friday afternoon.

CBS affiliate KRTV correspondent Carolyn Bunce reports that the team was practicing for about an hour until something went wrong.

Eyewitness Mitch Patterson saw five of the planes fly past. "This one came, did the little turn upside down," he told KRTV, "then all of a sudden he went down on this peak and then just went fast and one of my co-workers said, 'That's not good, is it?' I was like, 'I don't think so.' Then about 10 seconds later a cloud of smoke just came out of there — big, black smoke."

The Canadian military identified the pilot as Capt. Shawn McCaughey, 31, of Candiac, Quebec. He had been with the Snowbirds for two years, and was the sixth Snowbirds pilot killed in a crash since 1972.

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."

Maj. Robert Mitchell, the Snowbirds' commanding officer, said McCaughey was performing a "routine maneuver" — flying upside down about 300 feet off the ground — when his single-engine jet went down. McCaughey, the only person in the jet, did not eject.

The team had been in the air for about 45 minutes, said Mitchell, who was flying the lead plane. McCaughey made no radio contact and did not indicate he was having trouble, he said.

"Shawn was a professional officer, talented pilot and dear friend," Mitchell said. "Our team is devastated, and we will miss him."

McCaughey's father said his son was to be married next month in Montreal.

Today is his fiance's birthday.

Ken McCaughey, his father, says his son dreamed of becoming a pilot since he was a little boy.

He says when this son joined the Snowbirds two years ago, he described it as "the best job in the world."

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, base spokeswoman Capt. Elizabeth Mathias said.

Snowbirds team members, who spent Friday night on the base, planned to remain at Malmstrom to help with the investigation, she said.

A Canadian Forces team is expected to arrive this afternoon at the crash site to lead the investigation. Capt. Elizabeth Mathias of the Mastrom air base says the mood there is somber but the Snowbirds insisted the show should go on.

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 were next scheduled to fly at an air show in British Columbia next Wednesday.

"The team will take an operational pause to remember Shawn McCaughey like we need to, and then we will go back and do the rest of the show season," said Col. Richard Foster, commander of 15 Wing Moose Jaw.

Foster said he had known the veteran pilot since before he became an instructor at Moose Jaw, the squadron's home base in Saskatchewan.

"He was very jovial, very caring," Foster said. "He did his job very well. He was a very credible pilot and a good friend."

The Snowbirds have been compared to the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels. They fly their planes almost daily, year-round — logging 3,700 hours a year.

A Blue Angels pilot died in a crash last month in Beaufort, South Carolina.