LETHBRIDGE, — The airshow where Capt. Brian Bews ejected from his CF-18 during a practice flight on Friday went ahead as scheduled this weekend, but things were hardly business as usual.
In the grandstand fans could see the charred twin tails of the jet’s wreckage surrounded by yellow tape. It seemed everyone was talking about the heart-stopping photographs and video of the crash.
“It doesn’t add to the appeal for me but it does make you more cognizant of the fact that a lot of machines are on the edge when they’re performing,” said spectator Craig Gorham, who was sitting in the front row of the bleachers on Saturday.
Gorham said the master of ceremonies for the airshow reassured spectators that the pilots always keep within a fixed area in order to make sure no one on the ground is injured in the event of a mishap.
Bews was practising manoeuvres when witnesses say the plane appeared to stall at low altitude and then plunged toward the ground, erupting in a gigantic fireball. Right before impact, Bews ejected and his parachute deployed in the nick of time.
He hit the ground hard and was dragged, but the military said Bews was recovering from his ordeal.
Despite reports late Friday claiming Bews had been released from hospital, military spokeswoman Capt. Holly Brown said Saturday that he remains in hospital.
“We don’t have a time or date,” Brown said, noting that she has been in communication with Bews via email. “He’s in good spirits. His condition is stable and we’re hoping he’s going to be released soon.”
“He does have his friends and family with him so he’s being well taken care of.”
Crash investigators are still working to determine the cause of the accident. The military said the CF-18 fleet will continue to operate as usual.
Brown said like many Canadians, everyone in the military is talking about the close call for Bews, and how they felt when they saw the spectacular pictures.
“My heart was in my throat. But by the time I saw the footage I already knew that he had ejected safely, so I was just really happy and relieved to know that he was going to be OK,” Brown said.
The CF-18 that Bews was flying is a plane specifically used for airshows and is only flown in that capacity.
Bews, who grew up in Eatonia, Sask., is with 425 Tactical Fighter Squadron based at 3 Wing in Bagotville, Que. He was chosen to fly the demonstration jet in 2010.
It’s the 19th year for the airshow. Airshow president Robb Engen said organizers had to juggle their schedule in order to fill the gap in the CF-18’s performance, but he said the wreckage isn’t in the way of the runway so it isn’t a problem for the performances.
“Thankfully Capt. Bews is OK. Our thoughts are with him and his family,” Engen said.
“We’re just thankful it was in a practice run, and that’s why we have safety precautions in place. That’s why we do safety runs,” he added.
The airshow wraps up Sunday.