Military on Hand for Arctic Sovereignty Exercises Helped Save Crash Victims
Canadian authorities are investigating what made a Boeing 737 from an Inuit-owned airline slam into a hill just short of Resolute Bay’s airport on August 20, killing 12.
Rescuers of the three survivors pulled from the wreckage of First Air flight 6560 included military personnel on hand for periodic Joint Task Force North’s Operation Nanook Arctic sovereignty exercises. The responders were scheduled to simulate a plane-crash rescue on Monday August 22, but the exercise was canceled on Sunday as the real-life tragedy unfolded.
"At this time, the cause of the accident is unknown," First Air spokesman Christopher Ferris told the Canadian Press and other reporters at a press conference outside Ottawa on Sunday, his voice breaking. "Our thoughts and focus are with the families and friends of the passengers and crew and the community."
En route from Yellowknife, the chartered jet was going to head on to Grise Fiord on Ellesmere Island, the Associated Press reported. Instead the plane came down within reach of ATVs, military helicopters and other vehicles. People rushed to the scene and pulled a 23-year-old woman, a 48-year-old man and a seven-year-old girl from the burning craft.
The man and child were transferred to Ottawa for treatment, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) told reporters on Sunday, while the 23-year-old remained in Iqaluit. All three were in stable condition, police said. The airline was not giving out more information pending notification of kin, and did not release the name of the chartering organization.
“You can see them out there picking up things, parts, right now,” Resolute resident Doreen McDonald told The Globe and Mail. “It is not a pretty scene. I feel for the families. That plane just went right into the side of the mountain.”
Fog was considered a possible culprit, though it is normal for this time of year. The Canadian Press reported that the airline, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Quebec Inuit’s economic and political entity Makavik Corp., had had two accidents over its 65-year history. The Globe and Mail report said that the airline had passed a safety audit by the Flight Safety Foundation just two days earlier.
First Air operates a 20-plane fleet between 30 Canadian Arctic communities, according to its website, operating worldwide charter service as well. It transports more than 225,000 passengers and about 55 million pounds of cargo annually.
Resolute Bay is a 250-person hamlet in Canada’s far-north territory of Nunavut. It is on the coast of the Northwestern Passages, due west of Baffin Bay and Greenland.
“We're all in shock up here,” local legislator Ron Elliott told The Globe and Mail. “But we're thankful the military is there to assist. With tragedies like this in a community of this size, it will ultimately have deep impact.”
Below, a visual of the crash's geography from Euro News.