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Fighter jet crashes at Alberta airport

Last Updated: Friday, July 23, 2010 | 7:11 PM MT

A Canadian Forces pilot was in a southern Alberta hospital with undetermined injuries after his CF-18 fighter jet crashed Friday during practice for an air show at the Lethbridge airport.

Capt. Brian Bews, 36, was flying the plane in advance of this weekend's Alberta International Airshow in Lethbridge.

"He is alive and we believe right now that his injuries are non-life-threatening," Canadian Forces Capt. Nicole Meszaros told CBC News.

A CF-18 fighter jet crashes during a practice flight for the Alberta International Airshow in Lethbridge. A CF-18 fighter jet crashes during a practice flight for the Alberta International Airshow in Lethbridge. (Ian Martens/Lethbridge Herald/Canadian Press)

Witnesses said the pilot was doing low manoeuvres when he had to eject and parachute to the ground at about 12:20 p.m. MT.

"I noticed it start to bank a little bit off to one side, which I kind of thought was unusual and I saw a couple of pops and all of a sudden this plane just banked and slowly dropped into the ground into this huge orange ball of fire," said photographer Ian Martens.

"For a time there, it kind of looked like he was unconscious. The parachute was just pulling him off across the ground but he landed clear of the plane."

"I saw the jet flying back and forth doing air acrobatic stunts and whatnot," said Ray Cooper, who was driving past the airport on his way to work. "The jet went across to go down in the airport area and next thing I know — boom!

The area has been cordoned off for an investigation by the federal departments of National Defence and Transportation. The public was in no danger, said RCMP Insp. Joe McGeough.

Capt. Brian Bews, seen in a 2007 photo taken in Edmonton, is recovering in a Lethbridge hospital. Capt. Brian Bews, seen in a 2007 photo taken in Edmonton, is recovering in a Lethbridge hospital. (Dan Riedlhuber/Reuters)

Bews' home base is 3 Wing, from CFB Bagotville in Quebec. He was flying a CF-18 Hornet specifically designated to fly at air shows, Meszaros said.

Bews, who is from Eatonia, Sask., learned how to fly in Okotoks, Alta. He joined the Canadian Forces in 1999 and has been piloting the CF-18 Hornet since 2004.

The air show, which is in its 19th year, will go ahead as scheduled on Saturday and Sunday in Lethbridge, which is more than 200 kilometres south of Calgary.

The Canadian government announced last week that it plans to spend $9 billion to purchase a new generation of fighter jets, the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. They will replace the aging fleet of CF-18s that recently underwent a $2.6-billion upgrade.

With files from the CBC's Andree Lau
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