First Nation rangers say they should've been called to Buffalo Airways incident

A Canadian Ranger says she's concerned other members from the K'atl'odeeche First Nation weren't contacted to assist with a crash landing in the area. However, a commanding officer says rangers, including those from the First Nation, were called from Hay River because 50 rangers were there for training.

Commanding officer says rangers called from Hay River because 50 were there for training

A corporal with the Canadian Rangers says response to a Buffalo Airways forced landing near the K'atl'odeeche First Nation could have been faster had members from the First Nation been involved. (Walter Strong/CBC )

A corporal with the Canadian Rangers says she's concerned no rangers from the K'atl'odeeche First Nation near Hay River, N.W.T., were called out to a crash landing that happened in the area last week.

The incident happened at about 8 a.m. Friday after Buffalo Airways 169, flying a DC-3, took off from Hay River to Yellowknife at 7:41 a.m., and then turned back toward Hay River. The aircraft headed for the airport but didn't make it, making an emergency landing on First Nation land about nine kilometres from the runway.

Rangers were deployed, along with local RCMP, using all-terrain vehicles to assist with locating the plane and retrieving people from the site of the incident.

Two pilots were on board the plane at the time of the incident. Both were found safe.

'Why weren't we involved?'

Cpl. Irene Graham, with the First Nation's ranger group, which was formed in July, said she doesn't know why she and the other seven members in the area weren't called to help. Instead, a ranger group based in Hay River was deployed, and worked with First Nation leadership. 

"This is my traditional territory. Nobody contacted me, and I know the area," Graham said.

"They didn't have any idea where this plane was. They had to call my uncle… he was telling them where to go. And he's not a Canadian Ranger.

"It's concerning. Why we weren't involved?"

The rangers are part of the 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group, which includes ranger patrol groups based in Hay River and the First Nation. 

Communication breakdown

Hay River fire chief Ross Potter said he was unaware that the First Nation ranger group existed until CBC asked him about Graham's concerns on Monday. 

On the day of the incident, the fire department requested the Hay River ranger group's assistance. They were deployed by the ranger patrol group's administration in Yellowknife. 

"So I would suggest the breakdown in communications would be from the rangers themselves," Potter said. 

These people don't know our reservation. I'm from the reserve, I know our traditional territory.-  Cpl. Irene Graham

Potter said he doesn't know if the First Nation-based group's involvement would have made a difference in this case.

However, Graham says that she believes the group's local knowledge would have led to a faster response.

"I think it would be beneficial to get to the plane fast," she said. "These people don't know our reservation. I'm from the reserve, I know our traditional territory."

'It's not essential'

Joint Task Force North, which is responsible for the 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group in this situation, said the Hay River patrol was deployed because 30 of the region's 50 rangers were in Hay River for training. 

Lt.-Col. Tim Halfkenny, commanding officer of the patrol group, said members both from Hay River and the First Nation's ranger groups were at the training

Lt.-Col. Tim Halfkenny is commanding officer of the 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

Two groups of eight rangers were deployed to the crash site. Halfkenny said two of those rangers were from the First Nation.

"The crash location was known because the pilots were the ones who contacted [us]," he explained. 

"The ranger [Graham] was absolutely correct. Their knowledge of the land and what their traditional ways are to get to places is hugely important. It's not essential though. Essential is I get to that site."

According to a Buffalo Airways spokesperson, the forced landing was due to a mechanical issue.

With files from Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi