Plane crash near Resolute Bay in Canada’s High Arctic kills 12

A 737 passenger jet crashed Saturday near Resolute Bay, Nunavut, in Canada’s High Arctic, killing 12 people and injuring three others on board.

Nunavut RCMP said First Air charter flight 6560 was travelling from Yellowknife to the community of Resolute with 15 people on board, including four crew members.

A flight list was not immediately available.

In a statement confirming the crash, First Air said the plane’s last reported communication was at 12:40 p.m. CT, approximately eight kilometres from the airport, and that the plane went down 10 minutes later.

Police said the survivors were two adults and a child who were all transported to the Qikiqtani General Hospital in Iqaluit. One of the adults is in critical condition, police said.

CBC reporter Patricia Bell said that Aziz (Ozzie) Kheraj, who owns the South Camp Inn in Resolute, had two granddaughters on the plane. One of the girls died, she said.

The Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre at CFB Trenton said helicopters and medical personnel were at the site. About 700 military personnel were already in the area for the massive military exercise Operation Nanook.

“What’s very ironic is they were there to do simulations of how to respond to accidents … and how they could respond to that,” Bell said. “Now they’re dealing with an actual accident.”

The RCMP said they had 11 members on the ground in Resolute and residents also assisted in the rescue.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is scheduled to travel to Resolute on Monday for his annual trip to the Arctic, said in a statement he was “deeply saddened by news of this tragic plane crash near Resolute Bay.

Local leaders in shock

Ralph Alexander, Resolute’s acting senior administrative officer, said at first he wondered if the crash was not part of the Operation Nanook military exercises taking place around the community.

A mock air-disaster response exercise was scheduled to begin early Monday morning.

“With all that planning for an exercise, and then a real crash happens — it’s odd,” he told CBC News.

Alexander said it was not foggy in Resolute on Saturday, so he does not think weather was a factor in the crash. He has seen planes land in far poorer visibility, he added.

“With the equipment in the plane and the detailed map of the airport, it’s hard to say why they had so much trouble,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Alexander explained that most people in the small hamlet are connected to one another, and many are touched personally by the tragedy.

Mayor Tabitha Mullin declined to be interviewed on Saturday, and senior administrative officer Martha Idlout-Kalluk told CBC News that she herself is “too close to some of the deceased” to speak at this time.

Alexander said hamlet staff, like other community members, are doing what they could to help comfort people affected directly by the crash.

He said he believes more people than usual will attend church services on Sunday. The hamlet would help arrange a larger service if necessary, he said.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of those passengers who lost their lives in this tragedy. We also wish a speedy recovery to those who were injured.”

Canadian Governor General in Resolute

Gov.-Gen. David Johnston, who is currently touring the Arctic, was scheduled to hold events in Resolute on Sunday, but cancelled them given the tragedy. A spokeswoman from Johnston’s office said no one from the official delegation was involved in the crash.

Johnston said in a news release that he and his wife Sharon were “deeply saddened” by the crash.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by this tragic event,” the statement said.

“Earlier today, I had the opportunity to visit many of the Operation Nanook military units. I was able to witness first-hand the professionalism and dedication of our Canadian Forces and civilian organizations as they responded quickly and effectively to this catastrophe.”

Witness says plane is in pieces

Some people in Resolute saw the crash, not far from the runway of the airport that serves the hamlet of about 200 residents.

“People in the community are understandably quite upset,” Bell said.

Witnesses said the plane crashed into a small hill.

“You could see parts of the plane everywhere … tail, nose, everything,” said Saroomie Manik, a former mayor of the community who went to the site.

RCMP Const. Angelique Dignard said the crash site is less than two kilometres west of the Resolute community and is accessible by ATV, though the terrain is rugged.

Doreen McDonald passed near the charred wreckage of the plane as she was returning to town from a camping trip.

“It’s in three different pieces. The wings are still attached. The front and back are separated.

“And they were picking up pieces of bodies.”

The RCMP said two forensic identification teams are being sent to Resolute, with one team of four dedicated to identifying the dead and a team of two dedicated to the accident. A coroner is also scheduled to attend the crash site, police said.

Both black boxes have been recovered from the site.

Chris Krepski, spokesman for the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, said investigators were on the scene soon after the crash. They were already in Resolute, scheduled to participate next week in the military exercise.

Krepski said it was too soon to say what caused the crash.

“At this point it’s gathering as much information as we can from the accident scene, from interviewing witnesses, speaking to air traffic control, getting weather records, maintenance records from the company, that kind of thing.”

First Air said all flights out of Yellowknife Saturday are postponed. The company said it will hold a news conference at its Kanata, Ont., headquarters on Sunday at 11 a.m. ET.

The airline began in 1946 as Bradley Air Services, offering charter, surveying, passenger and cargo flights across northern Canada.

Resolute ‘nexus of the North’

Resolute is a tiny Inuit community tucked in a shallow, gravelly bay along the northernmost leg of the Northwest Passage.

Despite its remote location far above the treeline, Resolute is known as the nexus of the North, a frequent staging community for scientific, military and commercial expeditions. It’s also the base for the Canadian Polar Continental Shelf project, a federal institution that handles logistics for Arctic researchers.

Resolute is also the planned location of the army’s new winter warfare school.

“It’s the kicking off point,” said University of Calgary Arctic expert Rob Huebert. “If you’re to do anything, in terms of research, Resolute is where you’re going to be from a geographic position in the eastern Arctic.”

The terrain around the community is low and rocky. A large hill fronted by a dramatic cliff face looms behind the town.

Jobs are few in the community and are mostly in the public sector. Commercial polar bear hunts are one of the few industries.

Originally posted August 20, 2011

CBC News

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