N.W.T. plane crash: Fatal flight was headed to Diavik diamond mine

Click to play video: 'NWT plane crash: Search and rescue teams respond to fatal incident near Yellowknife'
NWT plane crash: Search and rescue teams respond to fatal incident near Yellowknife
WATCH: Search and rescue teams respond to fatal incident near Yellowknife – Jan 23, 2024

A plane headed to a diamond mine in northern Canada crashed near the Alberta-Northwest Territories border Tuesday morning, mining company Rio Tinto confirmed Tuesday night.

“We have been informed by authorities that a plane on its way to our Diavik mine, carrying a number of our people, crashed near Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, Canada, resulting in fatalities,” the company said.

The Northwest Territories Coroner’s Service said there were fatalities from the plane crash near the community of Fort Smith, N.W.T. It did not say how many have died or give further details, saying it must first notify next of kin.

The international mining company released a statement of condolences, but did not say how many people were killed or if all were employees.

“I would like to extend our deepest sympathy to the families, friends, and loved ones of those who have been affected by this tragedy. As a company we are absolutely devastated by this news and offering our full support to our people and the community who are grieving today,” said Rio Tinto chief executive Jakob Stausholm.

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“We are working closely with authorities and will help in any way we can with their efforts to find out exactly what has happened.”

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada said the plane that crashed near Fort Smith was a British Aerospace Jetstream registered to Northwestern Air Lease.

There is no word on how many people were on the plane that crashed.

Police in the N.W.T. are assisting. RCMP said in an email that Transport Canada and search-and-rescue teams have been brought in.

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In a statement, N.W.T. Premier R.J. Simpson responded to the “tragic Northwestern Air crash.”

“It is with a heavy heart that I express my deepest condolences to the families, friends, and loved ones of those who were aboard the Northwestern Air flight that crashed outside of Fort Smith today.

“The impact of this incident is felt across the territory. The people we lost were not just passengers on a flight; they were neighbours, colleagues, friends and loved ones. Their stories and contributions to our communities will not be forgotten.

“In the Northwest Territories (NWT), we come together and take care of each other, especially during difficult times. To those affected by this tragedy: as you navigate this time of grief and sorrow, remember that you have the thoughts and prayers of residents across the NWT. We stand with you, we grieve with you, and we share the pain of your loss.

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“As we seek to understand the circumstances of this tragedy, I’d also like to extend a heartfelt thank you to the first responders and rescue teams who continue to work tirelessly at the crash site.

“If today’s news has impacted you, I encourage you to seek support by talking to your loved ones, calling 811 OR 1-844-259-1793 or accessing one of the services listed here.”

Joint Rescue Coordination Centre Trenton confirmed the military responded after a plane lost contact shortly after taking off near the town, about 740 kilometres south of Yellowknife near the Northwest Territories-Alberta boundary.

The Air Force, RCMP and Canadian Rangers were all involved in the search-and-rescue, said David Lavallee, a public affairs officer with Search and Rescue Region Trenton.

Three Air Force squadrons provided air support, while police and rangers conducted a search on the ground, he said.

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Lavallee said a CC-130H Hercules aircraft travelled to the site from Calgary and a CC-130J Hercules was sent from Trenton. A Twin Otter aircraft was sent from Yellowknife.

“Canadian Rangers located the aircraft near the Slave River, and (search-and-rescue) … parachuted into the site,” said Lavallee.

In a social media post, the town of Fort Smith asked residents to stay away from where it’s believed the plane crashed to allow for emergency responders to get through.

The Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority (NTHSSA) advised residents that Fort Smith Health Centre activated “its mass casualty protocol at approximately 8:50 a.m. Tuesday in response to an aviation incident near the community, which will continue until official direction is received that the incident response has concluded. We are working closely with other emergency response agencies.”

Diavik diamond mine is located about 220 kilometres south of the Arctic Circle in the Northwest Territories and has been in operation for just over 20 years.

With files from Karen Bartko and Emily Mertz, Global News

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