The two pilots who died when a float plane they were flying in crashed into a Yellowknife street have been identified, and the airline they flew for has grounded its flights.
Pilot Trevor Jonasson, 36, and co-pilot Nicole Stacey, 26, were killed shortly after 1 p.m. Thursday when their Twin Otter plane crashed, clipping power lines before slamming into a vacant lot between two Yellowknife buildings. Seven passengers were injured, two seriously enough that they were flown to Edmonton for treatment.
Investigators with the Transportation Safety Board are on their way to Yellowknife to look into what caused the crash. The plane was chartered by Avalon Rare Metals and was carrying three of the company's employees, as well as a photographer from Up Here magazine. The plane was returning from an exploration site near Thor Lake when it went down not far from Yellowknife Bay, where float planes take off and land.
No one on street level was seriously hurt, but some bystanders were struck with debris.
Don Bubar, the CEO of Avalon Rare Metals, said his injured employees aren't exactly sure what happened.
"There's some trauma about the incident," Bubar said. Two of them actually blacked out, so their recollections of what actually happened immediately prior to the crash are pretty fuzzy."
Arctic Sunwest Charters, the company that owns the plane, suspended flights until Monday. A company spokesperson said grief counsellors have been called in to help relatives of the crew and passengers.
Jonasson had moved to Yellowknife from Ontario. The 36-year-old is survived by his wife. The couple had no children.
Stacey, a reserve soldier who held the rank of master corporal with the Canadian Forces' Yellowknife Company, was originally from Inuvik, but grew up in Yellowknife.
The military issued a press release expressing its condolences, calling the 26-year-old "a talented leader that could be relied on to accomplish anything assigned to her."
Stacey is being remembered as a vivacious and adventurous young woman who was the third generation in a family of aviators.
"It's part of her life, really, to fly," her uncle, Greg Stacey, said Friday.
"She was such a happy person, you always wanted to be around her. Everyone was drawn to her — there wasn't one group of people in Yellowknife that she wasn't friends with," said Aaliyah Adam, a childhood friend.
"I always remember her smile and her laugh. She had this kind of cackle that just infected everyone."
Stacey is survived by her parents, two brothers and a sister.
Community shaken by crash
Many in Yellowknife were shaken by the crash, the second crash in Canada's North in just over a month.
Northwest Territories Premier Floyd Roland said Friday the prayers and thoughts of all territorial residents are with the friends and family of the dead and the injured.
"Amidst the history, romance and adventure of our trademark bush pilots and planes, it is so easy to forget the danger and risks that are inherent in this vital northern industry," Roland said in a news release.
One of the two buildings where the plane went down houses an office where two of the three survivors from the plane crash last month in Resolute had been based.
Some paid their respects by climbing up to Pilots Monument, a site established to remember the many bush pilots who have risked their lives to open up Canada's North.
"Considering how much of the North was built through the efforts of bush pilots, I think we should show some respect," said Roy Dahl.
Those who climbed the hill lit candles, and many spent several minutes in silent reflection.
Investigation to take days: RCMP
The initial Transport Canada report into the crash shed little light on what happened. The plane reported that it was on final approach. Two minutes later, as the tower was attempting to confirm the plane landed safely, an emergency transmitter signal was heard and the crash confirmed.
The investigation is expected to take several days, and the plane will stay where it is until investigators say it can be moved. RCMP Insp. David Elliott said police are still seeking assistance with the investigation.
"We're asking for anybody that might have seen the collision or might have seen what happened to give us a call here at Yellowknife detachment," Elliott said.
"We're also presently guarding the scene of the collision."
Gasoline was 'running like water': witness
Elias Saravanja saw the plane go down and later watched as fuel spilled out of the plane.
"The gasoline was running like water," he said.
Emergency responders and the Environment Department responded to the crash site to deal with the leaking fuel.
RCMP Const. Kathy Law said it's believed the plane was preparing to land at nearby Great Slave Lake when it crashed. The RCMP said the Transportation Safety Board will make a final ruling on what happened.