Prime Minister Stephen Harper met with community members and first responders Tuesday in the remote Nunavut community of Resolute after 12 people were killed in a deadly plane crash on the weekend.

Harper's sixth annual visit to Canada's North was delayed  after the plane went down near the remote community Saturday, leaving only three survivors.

The visit comes as a major joint military exercise, Operation Nanook, is in its third week in the Resolute region. If not for the military exercise in the region, it would have taken hours for help to arrive. No military search and rescue resources are permanently based in the high Arctic.

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, who's also the MP for Nunavut, said the crash highlights the need for emergency response capacity North of 60.

Harper said training and equipment are key to prepare for emergencies like Saturday's crash, but it's not possible to have Arctic-specific search and rescue capacity.

"We have to be realistic — there is no possible way, in the vastness of the Canadian Arctic, we could have all of the resources necessary, close by. It's just impossible," Harper said Tuesday in Resolute.

In a statement, Harper said the Armed Forces training in the area were instrumental in helping save lives.

"Saturday’s tragedy was felt by all Canadians across the country and around the world. Our thoughts and prayers continue to remain with family members, friends and colleagues of those who died and those who are recovering from this terrible accident," Harper said in the statement.

"Once again, I want to extend my gratitude to all those involved in the rescue efforts, including the Herculean efforts by Canadian Armed Forces personnel."

The prime minister began his tour early Tuesday. After visting the Resolute Bay area, he was moving on to other northern communities, including Baker Lake, Yellowknife, Whitehorse and Haines Junction.

Harper also praised one of the men killed in the crash, releasing a statement the night before he left for the Arctic. He offered condolences to the family and friends of Marty Bergmann, a scientist specializing in the Arctic.

"During his impressive career in the government — most recently as director of the Polar Continental Shelf Program with Natural Resources — he worked tirelessly to support researchers in the country's vast and remote North and has been a leader in rejuvenating Canada’s Arctic research infrastructure," Harper said.


Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets with local Inuit in Pangnirtung, Nunavut in 2009. He launched his 2011 summer Arctic tour on Tuesday. (Andy Clark/Reuters)

"His legacy will live on in the science benefitting northern families and in exercising Canada's sovereignty over its Arctic territory."

The prime minister is expected to make several announcements focusing on economic and social development during the tour, which runs until Aug. 26.

While Harper tours the region, officials will continue their search for answers on why the Boeing 737-200 crashed near the remote Arctic community.

Officials said Monday that it would be several days before they would be able to analyze the information gathered in the final moments of the flight, and the final report on the crash could take more than a year.

Resolute Bay, Nunavut
With files from the CBC's Patricia Bell and The Canadian Press