Aug. 21 (Bloomberg) -- The three survivors of a passenger jet crash in a remote section of the Canadian Arctic are in stable condition as officials investigate what caused the accident that killed 12 people aboard a First Air Boeing 737.
Two of the survivors, a 7-year-old girl and a 48-year-old man, were taken to an Ottawa hospital for treatment, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said in an e-mailed statement today. A 23-year-old woman remained hospitalized in Iqaluit, Nunavut.
First Air, an airline collectively owned by 9,000 Inuit of northern Quebec, said yesterday the 737-200 carrying 15 people crashed near Resolute Bay, about 370 miles from the North Pole in sparsely populated tundra. The charter aircraft was en route from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, with 15 passengers and crew when it crashed about 12:50 p.m. local time.
The plane lost contact with air controllers about 10 minutes prior to the crash and five miles from the Resolute Bay airport, First Air said. The company has yet to identify who had chartered the flight. The RCMP statement said the names of the dead are being withheld pending notification of next of kin.
Four crew were among the 15 aboard, First Air said. The aircraft’s two pilots were among the dead, Captain Lee Moak, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, International, said in an online statement via Twitter.
The Transportation Safety Board had seven investigators already on the ground as part of military exercises, and they were sent to the scene of the crash, spokesman Chris Krepski said. The flight recorders have been located and will be returned to the board’s labs in Ottawa, he said.
Members of the Canadian Forces who were on military exercises in Resolute Bay, which is about 2,100 miles northwest of Montreal, assisted in the rescue.
The weather was about 8 degrees Celsius (46 degrees Fahrenheit) and cloudy at the time of the crash, Captain Andrew Hennessy said by phone from Resolute Bay. “It’s not an easy thing to deal with by any stretch,” he said.
The Canadian Forces suspended the training operation, called Nanook, and will assist the Canadian Transportation Safety Board, the lead investigator on the crash, Hennessy said. Operation Nanook is annual exercise conducted in the Arctic by about 1,100 army, navy and air force members, running from Aug. 4 to Aug. 26, according to the Department of National Defence website.
Military doctors and nurses set up a medical station Hennessy near the scene, Hennessy said.
The crash and the military exercise in the same place were “sheer coincidence,” Krepski said. “Resolute Bay is a very remote and isolated area.”
Witnesses told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that the plane crashed into a small hill and broke into pieces.
The CBC reported one of the dead and one survivor were granddaughters of Aziz Kheraj, owner of the South Camp Inn in Resolute Bay. Kheraj said in a telephone interview he “wasn’t making any statements at this time.”
“I am deeply saddened by news of this tragic plane crash near Resolute Bay,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement. His office said the prime minister is scheduled to visit Canada’s northern territories this week.
Scott Bateman, First Air chief executive officer, will hold a news conference in Yellowknife today at 1 p.m. local time, the company said in a statement. The RCMP has recovered two black boxes from the scene and is sending six forensics officers to help identify the dead and investigate the accident, RCMP Constable Angelique Dignard said in an e-mail.
Resolute Bay, which sits on the south coast of Cornwallis Island in Canada’s Arctic, was named for HMS Resolute, one of the ships that went in search of the lost expedition of Sir John Franklin in 1850, according to the Nunavut tourism Web site. The community had a population of about 215 in the 2001 census, the town’s website said.
First Air is a wholly owned unit of Makivik Corp., which oversees money paid out to Canadian Inuit under land claims agreements. The carrier is owned by 9,000 Inuit of northern Quebec via Makivik, according to the company’s website.
First Air operates passenger and cargo flights between 30 communities in the Canadian Arctic and larger cities such as Ottawa and Montreal. It has a fleet of about 20 planes, including four Boeing 737-200, and its aircraft are also used for mineral and scientific exploration and aerial surveys.
Boeing will assist with the investigation into the crash, the Chicago-based firm said in an online statement.
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