Resolute Bay jet crash rescuers praised

First Air and Nunavut's premier are praising the Canadian military's rapid response to this weekend's plane crash near Resolute Bay, which killed 12 people and injured three others.

PM to visit community members and rescue responders on Tuesday

Crash site video

11 years ago
Duration 1:04
First video from the crash site on the outskirts of Resolute Bay, Nunavut, where a First Air plane crashed, killing 12

First Air and Nunavut's premier are praising the Canadian military's rapid response to this weekend's plane crash near Resolute Bay, which killed 12 people and seriously injured three others.

Flight 6560 was travelling from Yellowknife to Resolute with 15 people on board, including four crew members, when the Boeing 737-200 went down mid-Saturday near the remote Arctic community.

While the flight's passenger list has not been released, CBC News has learned that Marty Bergmann, director of Natural Resources Canada's Polar Continental Shelf Program, was among the victims.

Bergmann was to have met with Gov. Gen. David Johnston Sunday and was to have given him a tour of the program's facility in Resolute Bay. He also was to have given a tour of the facility to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who will arrive in Resolute Bay on Tuesday.

CBC's chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge described Bergmann as wonderfully warm person and a great ambassador for the north.

"I can say without a word of a lie, the stories I've most appreciated doing, felt the most excitement doing … were stories I did in the Canadian Arctic — all of which were inspired by Marty Bergmann," Mansbridge said.

RCMP in Nunavut confirmed on Sunday the three survivors are listed in stable condition in hospitals in Iqaluit and Ottawa. 

The airline announced Sunday all of the flight's crew were among the fatalities but did not release names of the victims.

Premier Eva Aariak said the military's response was "very, very critical" to the rescue of the survivors, given the territory's often extreme conditions. 

"We were lucky to have military exercise team already up in Resolute Bay to help respond to the incident," she said of the Canadian Forces personnel, who were already participating in the annual Arctic military exercise Operation Nanook and responded to the crash on Saturday.

Prime Minister Harper will visit Resolute Bay on Tuesday, where he will meet with community members and first responders involved in rescue and recovery efforts for First Air Flight 6560.

"Our thoughts and prayers remain with those affected by Saturday's tragic plane crash," Harper said in a statement Sunday.

"Thanks to the herculean efforts of first responders, including members of the Canadian Armed Forces, lives were saved that otherwise might have been lost."

Harper will also stop in the Northwest Territories and Yukon as part of his annual tour of the north.

Counsellors deployed to community

A First Air spokesman said Sunday the airline will co-operate fully with investigators to determine what caused the crash.

"We're deeply saddened by this tragedy and offer our sincere condolences to the families," Chris Ferris, First Air's vice-president of marketing, told reporters at the airline's headquarters in Kanata, Ont.

In this photo provided by the Department of National Defence, a Canadian Forces helicopter lands in Resolute Bay on Saturday as smoke billows from the crash scene in the background. (DND)

Ferris, his voice breaking with emotion during his brief statement, said field counsellors have been deployed in Resolute Bay, Yellowknife and other locations to help relatives and friends of the victims.

Ferris also thanked members of the military, saying their immediate response was "instrumental" in the rescue of the three survivors.

Nunavut's Aariak also questioned whether the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre at CFB Trenton would be able to send a response team that far north as quickly under normal circumstances.

"It takes many hours from Trenton or elsewhere to respond to situations like that, and the need to have a closer look at how we can lessen the response time is very important," she said.

First Air president and CEO Scott Bateman told reporters in Yellowknife that the flight's captain was from Edmonton and three crew members were from Yellowknife.

Bateman said he would continue to meet with relatives of victims in Yellowknife and planning to fly to Resolute Bay in the morning.

2 of 3 survivors transferred to Ottawa

Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak says the Far North's close-knit communities 'devastated' by the crash. (CBC)
A seven-year-old girl and a 48-year-old man have been transported to Ottawa General Hospital for further treatment, while a 23-year-old woman is still receiving medical care in Qikiqtani General Hospital in Iqaluit, Nunavut, RCMP Const. Angelique Dignard said in a release.

Witnesses said the aircraft crashed into a small hill as it approached Resolute's airport.

"You can see two big pieces of the plane and the tail," the CBC's Jessie Fraser reported from Resolute Bay's airport after flying over the wreckage. She described the landscape of the crash site as "little hills, rock and gravel."

'Everybody is in shock': premier

Canadian military medical staff attend to an injured crash survivor in Resolute Bay. (DND)
Aariak, in an interview Sunday with CBC News from Iqaluit called the crash "devastating" for the territory and its intertwined communities.

The premier said the territory's government is mobilizing its medical response and mental health teams to assist affected communities.

"We are like a close-knit family in Nunavut," she said. "There are family members in different communities as well, and the word travels fast. So everybody is in shock, and supporting one another is very important at this time."

Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, who is also the MP for Nunavut, said Saturday was a "very tragic day" for the territory.

"Nunavut's a very large territory, but everyone's affected," Aglukkaq told CBC News Sunday in Ottawa.

RCMP say there were 15 people, including four crew, on board the Boeing 737-200 similar to this aircraft shown. (Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press)
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada said it is still too early to speculate what might have caused the crash.

First Air said the plane's last reported communication was at 12:40 p.m. CT, approximately eight kilometres from the airport, and that the plane went down 10 minutes later.

TSB spokesman Chris Krepski said investigators would spend Sunday continuing to gather information at the scene of the crash while the plane's black box flight recorders are sent to Ottawa for analysis.

'Rippling effect' throughout North

CBC reporter Patricia Bell said that Aziz (Ozzie) Kheraj, who owns the South Camp Inn in Resolute, had two granddaughters on the plane. One of the girls died, she said.

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Kheraj told The Canadian Press on Sunday that he chartered the flight and his other granddaughter was one of the two survivors transferred to Ottawa for treatment.

"We lost quite a few people on that plane, so it's pretty tough," Kheraj said. "We lost six staff."

Meanwhile, in Yellowknife, where the flight originated and the flight's crew were believed to be based, news of the crash had a "rippling effect" through the community, the CBC's Juanita Taylor said Sunday.

Joe McBryan, owner of Buffalo Airways, told CBC News "everyone knows everyone" in the Far North's tight-knit aviation community.

"When something like this happens, it hits home," he said, his voice choking up.

First Air provides scheduled passenger and cargo service between 25 northern communities with connections to Edmonton, Winnipeg, Montreal and Ottawa.

The airline began in 1946 as Bradley Air Services, offering charter, surveying, passenger and cargo flights across northern Canada.

With files from Jessie Fraser, Patricia Bell and The Canadian Press