updated 8/21/2011 11:08:41 AM ET 2011-08-21T15:08:41

A chartered Boeing 737 plane crashed Saturday afternoon in Canada's Arctic region, killing 12 people, police said.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said the plane went down near the hamlet of Resolute Bay in the Arctic territory of Nunavut. The First Air charter flight was traveling from Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories to Resolute Bay, and was scheduled to continue on to Grise Fiord on Ellesmere Island.

RCMP Constable Angelique Dignard said 12 people died in the crash and three people were injured. The plane was carrying 15 people, including four crew members. Police did not have any information about the condition of the three survivors.

First Air said in a news release that the plane last reported communication at 12:40 p.m. local time when it was about five miles (eight kilometers) from Resolute Bay airport.

The crash site is less than 1.2 miles (1.9 kilometers) west of the Resolute Bay community and is in rough terrain accessible by all-terrain vehicles, Dignard said.

Witnesses said the plane crashed into a small hill near the airport runway. Local residents rushed to the site on their ATVs to see if they could help pull people from the flaming wreckage.

"You could see parts of the plane everywhere ... tail, nose, everything," said Saroomie Manik, a former mayor of the community who went to the site.

Manik said there were two young girls on the plane, the grandchildren of a local inn owner. One of the girls died, while the other survived and was airlifted to a hospital in Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, Manik said. The hotel's cook was also on the plane, she added.

On its website, First Air says it serves the cargo and travel needs of remote northern communities in Canada's Arctic, connecting 30 northern communities with some of Canada's bigger cities.

Resolute Bay is an Arctic waterway in Nunavut. The population of the hamlet is about 230, many of whom are aboriginal natives known as Inuit people.

Hundreds of military personnel were already in the region to take part in the Canadian military's annual northern training exercise, Operation Nanook.

Maj. Gerald Favre at the northern search and rescue center at Canadian Forces Base Trenton said its aircraft were already in the area for the training exercise and were able to assist in the rescue operation. He said the plane that crashed was not part of the exercise.

Chris Krepski, spokesman for the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, said investigators were already in Resolute Bay for next week's military exercise and arrived on the scene soon after the crash.

Krepski said it was too soon to say what caused the crash.

"At this point it's gathering as much information as we can from the accident scene, from interviewing witnesses, speaking to air traffic control, getting weather records, maintenance records from the company, that kind of thing," he said.

An airport worker, who wouldn't give his name, said there was a low cloud ceiling at the time of the crash. It lifted about 10 minutes later.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is scheduled to travel to Resolute Bay on Monday for his annual trip to the Arctic while Governor General David Johnston, who is currently touring the Arctic, was scheduled to hold events in Resolute Bay this weekend

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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