Before she became Captain Jennifer Casey of the Royal Canadian Air Force – and, fatefully, public-affairs officer for the Snowbirds aerobatic team – Jenn Casey was a mischievous college kid.
One day in Halifax, where she attended Dalhousie University, a political candidate put a massive campaign sign on her lawn without permission. Ms. Casey, a sharp-witted political observer, did not approve.
She noticed the sign was the standard dimensions of an NHL goal. So she mustered her artistic skill and traced a goalie on the corrugated plastic surface, before cutting out a likeness that could be taped between the pipes for road hockey games.
By way of explanation, her friend Dan McDonald said simply: “We were 21.”
But this creative act of civil disobedience was also in keeping with the clever and adventurous young woman described by friends and colleagues on Monday. Capt. Casey, who was killed when the air-show plane she was flying in crashed shortly after takeoff in Kamloops, B.C., on Sunday, is being mourned in her native Halifax and beyond for her cheerful patriotism, sense of humour, professional skill and electric energy.
She was an “all-rounder,” said her university friend Nick Logan.
She “could hold her own in any conversation, be it hockey or politics, running, military or the arts,” said another friend, Corinne MacLellan.
The former journalist turned air-force officer was 35.
During a brief update on the crash from Moose Jaw, Sask., Monday afternoon, Lieutenant-Colonel Mike French, commanding officer of the Snowbirds, said the jet carrying Capt. Casey and piloted by Captain Richard MacDougall crashed around 11:45 a.m. on Sunday. He confirmed Capt. Casey and Capt. MacDougall ejected as the jet crashed. Lt.-Col. French told reporters that “the precise circumstances leading up to the crash are not known.”
“Yesterday’s circumstances led to the confluence of all those worst-case scenarios.”
The military has begun an investigation into the crash, in which Capt. MacDougall sustained serious but not life-threatening injuries.
Capt. Casey began her postsecondary career at Carleton University in Ottawa and quickly got involved in student politics. Shawn Menard, now an Ottawa city councillor, described her as a “natural leader” with “this infectious positivity about her” and an “East Coast friendliness.” Soon they ran on the same ticket for the student residence executive with playful campaign signs, calling for “cheaper laundry” and “more bands!”
After earning her bachelor of arts at Dalhousie, back home in Halifax, she studied journalism at the city’s University of King’s College for a year, where she could indulge her irreverent political streak and passion for storytelling.
There was little she enjoyed more in those days than watching her beloved Montreal Canadiens at a bar with friends, drinking cheap draft beer, eating nachos and analyzing the news with a political cartoonist’s sense of humour.
“She was always organizing those nights out,” said Jake MacDonald, a classmate. “That year was a lot of fun, and she was the architect of a lot of that fun.”
If she was the architect of nights out, she was also their most engaging chronicler, said Angele Cano, another classmate. “She would narrate a story of a night out and all the antics that went on and make me feel that I was there.”
That talent for storytelling landed her jobs in radio as a reporter, anchor and producer in Halifax and then Belleville, Ont.
The instability of the news media industry led her to cast around for other “exciting” careers with better job security, however, as she later explained in a video for the RCAF. When she joined the Armed Forces in August, 2014, she had to go through basic training in Quebec. Capt. Casey relished challenges of all kinds, including 10-kilometre runs and picking up fluent French, her friends recall.
She joined the Snowbirds in November, 2018, following two other stints in the air force. At the time of her fatal accident, the Snowbirds were conducting Operation Inspiration, a cross-country tour to raise Canadians’ spirits during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lt.-Col. French credited her with raising the tour’s profile.
“She was savvy with social media, which endeared her to the public. She absolutely loved this job and it was one of the main reasons why the Snowbirds’ Operation Inspiration had been so well received by the public,” he said. “Her loss is a serious blow not only to our team but to the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Canadian Armed Forces as a whole.”
Capt. Casey loved her work with the squadron and embraced the dangers of stunt flying with the same gusto she brought to the rest of her life, said her friend Mr. Logan.
“She never said about anything about the risks,” he said. “She never spoke about anything other than how cool it was and all the exciting things she was doing, how much she loved being part of the team, all the inside jokes.”
“She was just so happy. She was loving life.”
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