Joint venture behind winter road to diamond mines offering assistance to workers injured in Air Tindi crash

An Air Tindi plane lands at the Yellowknife airport Thursday afternoon after a successful effort by the airline and Search and Rescue to rescue 10 people who were stranded when a plane went down north of Yellowknife. (Travis Burke/CBC)

A joint venture between arctic mining companies says it is offering assistance to workers who were aboard a plane that crashed in the Northwest Territories earlier this week.

A statement Saturday from the Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Road joint venture says the passengers on the Air Tindi charter flight were heading to a camp to begin construction of a winter road.

The road is built each year to supply Rio Tinto’s Diavik Diamond Mine, Burgundy Diamonds Ekati Diamond Mine and the Gahcho Kue Diamond mine with their annual stores inventory and heavy loads.

The Air Tindi Twin Otter carrying two pilots and eight passengers crashed near the Diavik Mine, about 300 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife, on Wednesday with everyone on board surviving although they were stranded at the crash site until they could be rescued the following day.

The director of winter road operations for the joint venture, Barry Henkel, says in an email that the employees worked for a contractor and that the joint venture wouldn’t provide information on their conditions, citing privacy reasons.

The joint venture’s statement says it does not expect the crash to affect the construction of the winter road, and that it will be completed as scheduled in the first half of February.

“TCWR wishes a speedy recovery to the passengers who were injured and has offered its assistance to passengers and their families, should they need it,” the statement said. The statement also noted the joint venture “will collaborate with the Canadian Transportation Safety Board, supplying any information they need for their investigation.”

A preliminary report from the Transportation Safety Board says the plane, which was fitted with skis, was travelling from Margaret Lake to Lac de Gras in the territory and crashed as it was attempting to land on the lake.

Air Tindi president Chris Reynolds has said it was cold and windy at the crash site on Wednesday, which hampered an immediate rescue.

A Royal Canadian Air Force CC-130H Hercules search-and-rescue aircraft that was dispatched from 17 Wing Winnipeg arrived at the scene that night. Three search-and-rescue technicians parachuted into the site and set up heated tents until helicopters could get there at first light.

According to the joint venture’s website the winter road begins at Tibbitt Lake and travels north for approximately 400 kilometres, with 85 per cent of the road over ice.

With the majority of the winter road constructed over ice, the website says the road must be rebuilt each year. Construction normally starts in mid-December with an expected opening date of February 1st.

Construction crews start by removing the snow on the ice, the website says, and then they measure the thickness of the ice with ground-penetrating radar. Data from the radar profile shows the road builders where flooding is required to build the ice thickness necessary for heavy loads.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Hercules aircraft reaches passengers and crew of Air Tindi crash in N.W.T.,  CBC News

Finland: Finland’s only aircraft manufacturer loses prototype in Lapland crash, Yle News

Norway: Electric planes could arrive sooner than we think in Norway, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Helicopter crash might add power to Russia’s push for new base in Svalbard, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Poor cockpit communication behind fatal plane crash in Arctic Sweden, Radio Sweden

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