Canadian transportation officials are investigating the causes of a deadly plane crash in a remote section of the Arctic as the three survivors of the disaster, including a 7-year-old girl, remained hospitalized.
Hundreds of military personnel in the region for a training exercise assisted in the rescue efforts after the Boeing 737-200 charter flight operated by First Air went down as it approached the Resolute Bay airport on the afternoon of Aug. 20. Twelve people died in the crash. The three survivors -- the girl, a 48-year-old man and 23-year-old woman -- are in stable condition, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said in a statement.
The plane, coming from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, lost contact with air controllers about 10 minutes prior to the crash and five miles from the airport, First Air said. Members of the Canadian Forces who were on exercises in the area, which is about 370 miles from the North Pole in sparsely populated tundra, rushed to the scene to assist, Chris Ferris, a spokesman for the airline, said in a statement.
“We would like to thank the Canadian Military whose on-site presence and immediate response was instrumental in the rescue efforts,” he said.
The temperature was about 8 degrees Celsius (46 degrees Fahrenheit) and skies were cloudy at the time of the crash, Captain Andrew Hennessy, a military spokesman, said by phone from Resolute Bay. The Canadian Forces suspended the training operation and will assist the Canadian Transportation Safety Board, the lead investigator on the crash, Hennessy said.
The board had seven investigators already on the ground as part of the annual military exercises, and they were sent to the scene of the crash, spokesman Chris Krepski said. The flight recorders have been found and will be examined at the board’s labs in Ottawa, he 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.”
The annual exercise is conducted in the Arctic by about 1,100 army, navy and air force members, according to the Department of National Defence website.
First Air, an airline collectively owned by 9,000 Inuit of northern Quebec, has yet to identify who chartered the flight. The RCMP statement said the names of the dead are being withheld pending notification of next of kin.
All four crew members were among the dead, First Air said.
Witnesses told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that the plane crashed into a small hill and broke into pieces.
“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 Resolute Bay tomorrow.
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. It 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.