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A man jumped out of a small airplane Wednesday, about 180 kilometres from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, according to police.

An apparently distressed passenger aboard a small charter flight Wednesday night to Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, forced open the aircraft's door and leapt to his death, police said.

The incident took place during an Adlair Aviation medical flight from Yellowknife northeast to Cambridge Bay, a community in western Nunavut, RCMP said Thursday.

At the time, the aircraft was about 180 kilometres from the Cambridge Bay airport, flying at an altitude of about 23,000 feet.

RCMP said bad weather hampered the search for the man's remains on Thursday. A Twin Otter airplane is conducting a grid search of the area.

Staff Sgt. Harold Trupish told CBC News that searchers are relying on GPS co-ordinates they've been given.

Police have not revealed the man's identity, except to confirm that he was from Cambridge Bay, and they have not elaborated on why he was on the medical flight.

Pilots declared in-flight emergency

The crew of the King Air 200 turboprop plane called in an emergency during the flight, reporting that one of two passengers aboard was being unruly, police said.

When RCMP officers met the plane after landing in Cambridge Bay, they learned that a 20-year-old man, who police described as distressed, had opened the exit door and jumped out, despite efforts by the two pilots to calm him down.

With the cabin breached in mid-air, the pilots steered the plane to a safe landing in Cambridge Bay, police said.

First such incident, company head says

Greatly shaken by the incident, the two pilots declined to talk to reporters on Thursday.

Adlair Aviation general manager Paul Laserich said the company's thoughts and prayers go out to the young man's family.

"We've been flying out of Cambridge Bay for at least 35 years, and this has never happened before," Laserich told CBC News.

'Huge force' needed to open doors: pilot

Iqaluit pilot Wes Alldridge, who was not on board the charter but has logged thousands of hours in King Air 200 aircraft, said the plane's exit doors are not supposed to open at altitudes as high as 23,000 feet.

"This door has four big steel pins that lock the main cabin door to the fuselage. So while the aircraft is pressurized, it's not possible to open the door," Alldridge said.

"It would take huge force, and you'd have to have a failure of that safety feature."

There was minor damage to the aircraft's cabin door, according to a Transport Canada incident report.

Nunavut RCMP and the territorial coroner are investigating the case. The Transport Canada report says the Transportation Safety Board will not conduct its own investigation.