By Ollie Williams
Search and rescue technicians have dropped from a Hercules aircraft to reach the passengers of a downed Air Tindi flight 300 km northeast of Yellowknife.
A Twin Otter carrying two crew and eight passengers on a private charter flight ended up ditching in the wilderness at around lunchtime on Wednesday.
Winds gusting to 65 km/h and blowing snow have complicated rescue efforts.
A Royal Canadian Air Force Hercules dispatched from Winnipeg arrived over the scene on Wednesday evening. Air Tindi president Chris Reynolds said three technicians were able to make the descent by parachute to join the stranded passengers and crew.
So far, only minor injuries have been reported.
The cause and precise circumstances of the incident are not clear, nor the exact location, though Reynolds said the aircraft came down “not too far away” from the Diavik diamond mine.
The specialists aboard the Hercules, trained as paramedics, were expected to provide medical support, supplies, warm clothing and better communications devices to the 10 stranded people. Reynolds said at 9:15pm the technicians had arrived at the aircraft.
The plan is to rescue the passengers and crew either by helicopter, another aircraft on skis, or possibly by ground.
The nearby mines have trained rescue personnel at their disposal if conditions ease. The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Trenton, Ontario said “efforts are being made” to reach the aircraft from the Diavik mine. Spokespeople for the mine could not be reached for comment.
Reynolds said he expected a rescue attempt to take place on Thursday morning.
In the meantime, the 10 people and three technicians are sheltering at the site. Reynolds said another plane had been able to pass overhead and reported that the affected aircraft “looked intact,” but he wasn’t certain of its condition.
Snow, wind ‘hampering recovery’
Reynolds said Air Tindi had been informed of the incident at 1pm and the Hercules had left Winnipeg by mid-afternoon.
Communication with the downed aircraft has been an issue, with only patchy contact available between the flight’s captain and Air Tindi’s team. Extra communications gear brought by the technicians is expected to improve that.
“There are pretty severe visibility restrictions and then blowing snow and heavy wind that are hampering recovery,” Reynolds said earlier in the day.
“Right now, our focus is on getting to them and getting them out of there.”
According to Reynolds, the charter flight – on skis instead of wheels – was heading to a lake in the vicinity of the location where the incident took place.
Conditions in the northern half of the Northwest Territories had been poor all day, with multiple blowing snow and snowfall advisories in place.
Highways were closed in the Beaufort Delta because of “blowing snow, snow drifts and poor visibility.” Winds in that region had been expected to reach gusts of 60 to 70 km/h.
Snow and freezing rain were also expected in the vicinity of Diavik, near the Nunavut border, according to forecasts issued earlier on Wednesday.
The passengers do at least have milder temperatures to contend with than would normally be the case.
Despite the wind and snow, much of the NWT is currently considerably warmer than usual. Yellowknife reported a temperature of -9C on Wednesday evening, some 13C warmer than the average high for this time of year.
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada said it understood the initial incident had taken place at around 11:45am and confirmed a rescue mission was ongoing.
A TSB spokesperson said the organization, which investigates air accidents, had few other details of the incident immediately available.