‘It scared the heck out of me’: CF-18 flyby spooks Montrealers

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If you were terrified by the sound of a jet roaring over Montreal last night, you weren’t alone.

City police reported getting calls to 911 from confused residents wondering what was going on when an ear-splitting noise pierced the air around 7:30 p.m. ET.

It was coming from a CF-18 jet, painted in honour of Canada’s 150th anniversary, that was conducting a flyby over Percival Molson Stadium before opening kickoff at the Alouettes’ CFL home opener (a game they won in dramatic fashion, by one point over the Saskatchewan Roughriders).

Will Peters, one of the residents who called police, lives on Hutchison Street, not far from the stadium.

“It scared the heck out of me,” he said.

Peters’s wife and two young children were on their way home during the flyby. He said the noise caused her to let go of the stroller with the 22-month-old inside, so she could move over and protect the three-year-old. The stroller rolled away and hit a Bixi stand, then toppled over.

Everyone is fine, Peters said, save for a few tears shed in the aftermath. But Peters plans to call the city and possibly contact the Alouettes to put an end to these kinds of events.

“It shouldn’t be happening, not with people in town with PTSD, refugees coming from war zones, it could trigger all sorts of trauma,” he said.

Capt. Jeff Noel with the Royal Canadian Air Force said flybys are done in support of special events at hundreds of locations around the country every year.

“They’re carefully planned, and we closely control to ensure that public safety is maintained at all times.”

Alouettes spokesperson Charles Rooke sent CBC News a statement saying the team is “sorry if some people were surprised by the flyover of the CF18 prior to last night’s home opener.”

He said the team and the Royal Canadian Air Force sent media advisories and social media posts “well in advance.”

Rooke explained the team is named after the 425 Tactical Fighter Squadron based at CFB Bagotville in the Saguenay. The first French Canadian squadron earned the nickname “Alouette” following its participation in the Second World War, he said.

“​Since 2014, as a part of that special relationship, a CF18 has made a flyover for one Alouettes home game every season, and all these same precautions and steps are followed every time,” Rooke added.

Who knew?

The demonstration team posted a statement about the flyby to its Facebook page Wednesday and sent out a news release that day and again Thursday morning to warn people about the event.

“We always send out public notices before flybys,” said Jessica Lamirande, a spokesperson for the Royal Canadian Air Force.

But it doesn’t appear everyone got the message, as evidenced by these tweets.

That’s just a sampling — there were plenty of tweets that employed choice words we can’t repeat here.

CBC also received a flood of text messages on the issue. Some reflected a sense of pride in the jets, while others said it was disrespectful to fly them so low over a densely populated urban area.

“I think it is thrilling to have them come over the city,” Ijaz Shaeib from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce texted. “I don’t think we should let the fear of a sound guide us as to whether we should have flyovers.”

But Judyth Mermelstein in Verdun said Canada is host to many from here and elsewhere for whom military aircraft “can be terrifying.”

“We don’t see press releases or paint jobs: we hear the roar and worry or panic.… Meanwhile, what’s the point but a ‘wow’ moment for Als fans?” Mermelstein texted.

The comments on our Facebook page were peppered, at times, with people expressing excitement, but others talked about how the noise had scared them.

Nadine Michelle was of the former, typing, “I looked up into the sky to salute our courageous Canadian military heroes who protect our beloved country.”

This isn’t the first time people have been startled by a flyby.

In May, an event featuring the the Snowbirds and their French counterparts, la Patrouille de France, elicited panicked calls to our newsroom.

Last year, in the lead up to Toronto’s Canadian International Air Show, a local filmmaker who spent time in Sri Lanka during the civil war said it may be time to start a dialogue about whether air shows are still necessary.

And this story from 2014, about CF-18s flying over an Alouettes game, basically could have been written today.

According to the statement, the Canada 150 jet flew over the stadium at an altitude no lower than 152 metres above the highest point of their route, meaning anyone in the downtown area of Montreal at that time got a good look at the planes.

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‘It scared the heck out of me’: CF-18 flyby spooks Montrealers

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