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PIlot Missing, Presumed Dead, After Jet Plunges Into Lake During Show

September 4, 1989 GMT

TORONTO (AP) _ A complicated stunt by the Canadian Forces’ elite Snowbirds aerobatic team went awry before thousands of onlookers and two jets plunged into Lake Ontario after apparently clipping each other.

Capt. Shane Antaya, 24, of Stratford, Ont., was missing and presumed dead after his red-and-white jet crashed in a dizzying nosedive at the Canadian National Exhibition air show.

Maj. Dan Dempsey of Edmonton, the 36-year-old commander of the precision flying team, safely ejected from his jet moments before it careered in smoke and flames into the lake.

Dempsey, who parachuted into the water, was taken to Toronto General Hospital where he was treated for facial cuts and leg burns and released.

Antaya’s wife, mother, brother and sister were watching the show from the shoreline, Col. Claude Thibault told reporters at a news conference Sunday night.

″The Snowbirds, of course, are filled with a sense of loss,″ said Thibault, adding that the team’s 15 remaining shows this season have been canceled and the Canadian Forces has already begun investigating.

The accident occurred midway through the nine-member team’s performance, during a stunt called an upward-downward bomb burst. In the maneuver, two groups of planes fly past each other at 373 mph.

Witnesses said two planes appeared to touch, sending them tumbling out of the tight formation. Videotape of the crash appeared to confirm the collision, but Thibault declined to speculate on the cause pending the investigation.

The estimated crowd of 70,000 collectively gasped as the two planes fell from the sky and crashed a few hundred yards from shore.

The Snowbirds were the first performers at the Canadian International Air Show, which runs the final three days of the two-week exhibition.

Sunday’s show resumed about 45 minutes after the crash and show chairman Bill McVean said today’s show would go ahead without the Snowbirds: ″It’s a tradition in the aviation business that the show must go on.″

The team, which performs more than 60 shows throughout North America each year, has had three airshow accidents and two pilot deaths in its history.

″We have flown in 980 shows before 60 million people,″ said Thibault. ″Our record speaks for itself.″

Seven pilots and crew members have died in five accidents since the Canadian National Exhibition air show began in 1949, not including Sunday’s crash.

The previous fatal mishap was Sept. 2, 1977, when vintage plane buff Alan Ness, 51, of Toronto, was killed when his Second World War fighter plane nosedived into Lake Ontario.

Sunday’s crash comes almost a year after Capt. Wes MacKay of the Snowbirds was killed in a car crash near Latrobe, Pa., that also injured Capt. Paul Giles and Capt. Ken Rae. A county coroner in Pennsylvania determined MacKay was legally impaired at the time of the accident in September 1988.

In their 19th season, the team flies the CT-114 Tutor, a single-engine jet manufactured by Canadair Ltd. of Montreal. It has a maximum speed of about 466 mph.

Officially known as the 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, it is a permanent unit of the Canadian Forces based at Moose Jaw in Saskatchewan. Team members are changed every two years.

Antaya was in his second year with the Snowbirds, said Thibault, base commander in Moose Jaw, adding the young pilot earned his wings in 1985 and had logged more than 1,800 flying hours. Before joining the elite flying squad, Antaya served as an instructor pilot for two years at the Moose Jaw air base.