The Canadian Forces pilot killed in Monday’s fighter jet crash near Cold Lake, Alta., was engaged to be married, and was about to begin training for a higher command position.
Capt. Thomas McQueen, of Hamilton, Ont., was a 10-year Royal Canadian Air Force veteran who died while flying a routine training mission.
His CF-18 went down Monday on the the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range, which straddles the Alberta-Saskatchewan border.
“We are deeply saddened by this terrible event,” Col. Paul Doyle, commander of 4 Wing Cold Lake, said at a news conference Tuesday in Cold Lake. “This is something as a team we’re coming to grips with.
“I personally knew Capt. McQueen, as I had the privilege of instructing him at 410 tactical fighter operational training squadron when he was learning to fly the [CF-18] Hornet.
“I can tell you first-hand how much of an incredible person he was, and he was dedicated to the service of Canada.”
McQueen had flown deployments in eastern Europe and had combat flight time in the Middle East on Operation Impact, Doyle said.
The pilot had been selected to begin training in the next couple of months, Doyle said, to become what the air force calls a “four-ship lead, one of the highest qualifications we have.”
Lt.-Col. Joseph Mullins, the commanding officer of McQueen’s squadron, spoke about his sense of personal loss.
“Here at 401 Squadron we’re very much a family, so it’s like we lost a member of our family yesterday,” he said.
It’s not clear what went wrong during the routine training session.
The director of flight safety with the Department of National Defence will lead the investigation to determine the cause.
‘A very, very sad day’
Doyle said the investigation into the cause of Monday’s crash will proceed step-by-step.
“I have the utmost confidence in the ability of DFS (director of flight safety) to make sure this will not be prolonged,” he said of that investigation.
Air force commander Lt.-Gen. Michael Hood said Monday from Ottawa the plane crashed on the Saskatchewan side of the boundary during a routine training mission by 401 Squadron.
“It’s a very, very sad day for the RCAF, and our hearts go out to the family of our fallen member,” Hood said. “More details will be forthcoming. It’s just a reminder of the dangerous work that we ask the men and women of our air force and our armed forces to do every day.”
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said he couldn’t speculate on what caused the crash.
“It’s too preliminary to make any type of judgment or conclusions,” Sajjan said.
“The best thing we can do right now is give the air force and the Canadian Armed Forces the space to do the necessary work, and then we will have more to say about that.”
A total of 19 CF-18 Hornets have crashed since the RCAF began to acquire the fleet of aircraft in 1982. Twelve of those crashes, including nine fatalities, involved aircraft from 4 Wing Cold Lake.
The Liberal government is currently looking at ways to replace and prolong the lives of the aging planes.
Former fighter pilot and Conservative MP Laurie Hawn called the CF-18 an “extremely safe airplane.”
In an interview with CBC News, Hawn said pilots train to mimic combat situations as “realistically as possible.”
“You should read absolutely nothing into this,” Hawn said of the crash.
“The F-18 has a lot of … life left. Obviously we have no idea what happened yet, so any conjecture would be way off base.”
The Cold Lake base in northeastern Alberta is the busiest fighter base in Canada. It provides fighter pilot training for all Canadian Forces pilots.