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A CF-18 fighter jet crashes during a practice flight for this weekend's Alberta International Air Show on July 23, 2010, in Lethbridge, Alta. (Ian Martens/Ian Martens/The Canadian Press)
A CF-18 fighter jet crashes during a practice flight for this weekend's Alberta International Air Show on July 23, 2010, in Lethbridge, Alta. (Ian Martens/Ian Martens/The Canadian Press)

Military

CF-18 fighter jet crashes in Alberta Add to ...

The top show pilot for the Canadian Forces' CF-18 fighter jet demonstration team is alert and speaking in hospital after a crash at an Alberta air show Friday afternoon.

Captain Brian Bews, 36, was piloting the jet in low-altitude manoeuvres during a test flight for an air show in Lethbridge when the plane appeared to stall, according to eyewitness accounts. Fragments were seen falling from it, witnesses said.

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Capt. Bews ejected from the plane and deployed a parachute. Still, he hit the ground hard and was dragged across the runway. He was taken to a regional hospital. His injuries appear minor, but he is being held in the hospital for observation, family said.

"He's in the hospital, but he's not in emerg' right now," said sister-in-law Heather Bews. "He said his ego's hurting pretty bad, but we don't even care. We don't care about the plane, the show ... we just care about him."

The military would not comment on his condition.

"All I can tell you is he's alive," said Lieutenant (Navy) David Lavallee, an air force spokesman. "At this time, obviously his well-being is our primary concern."

Robb Engen, president of the Alberta International Airshow's board of directors, said the pilot "safely ejected and was taken to hospital for further observation" and "seems to be fine."

Despite the drama that unfolded Friday, the show must go on, officials say.

"Absolutely 100 per cent, there will be two more days of air show fun in Southern Alberta," said Brad Lang, spokesman for the air show, which is in its 19th year and has events scheduled Saturday and Sunday.

Capt. Bews is a Saskatchewan native who is based out of 425 Tactical Fighter Squadron in Bagotville, Quebec, and was chosen as this year's demonstration pilot for the Air Force's show team, "considered quite an honour among the Canadian Forces fighter community," according to a military statement released at the time.

"He was totally excited. He'd worked hard. It was a big honour," his sister-in-law said.

Capt. Bews took his first flying lessons in Okotoks, Alta., in 1995 and joined the Canadian Forces in 1999, according to his official biography. He transfered to Bagotville in 2008. He enjoys motorcycles and is a "huge fan of motorsports of all kinds." He holds his commercial pilot's licence and a diploma in aviation from what is now Mount Royal University in Calgary.

"He's a flyer for life. He loves what he does," Ms. Bews said.

A spokesman at the Department of National Defence Headquarters, Lieutenant Christopher Daniel, said that an investigation is underway, but the cause of the crash is unknown. The CF-18 fleet will continue operations a usual, he said.

The CF-18s first entered service in 1982 and are expected to be withdrawn from service between 2017 and 2020. Most of the remaining fleet of 79 fighters, also known as Hornets, have recently been upgraded to extend their life.

With reports from Campbell Clark, Jill Mahoney, Sarah Boesveld and The Canadian Press

 

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