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3 in stable condition after Arctic plane crash

Three survivors of a plane crash in Canada's Arctic region were recovering from their injuries Sunday as investigators sifted through the wreckage to determine what caused the Boeing 737-200 jet to slam into a hill, killing 12 people.
First Air Jet
A Boeing 737, similar to this one, operated by First Air crashed near Resolute Bay, Nunavut, killing 12 people on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2011, in Canada. Larry Macdougal / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Three survivors of a plane crash in Canada's Arctic region were recovering from their injuries Sunday as investigators sifted through the wreckage to determine what caused the Boeing 737-200 jet to slam into a hill in foggy weather, killing 12 people.

First Air charter flight 6560 crashed Saturday afternoon as it was approaching the airport near the tiny hamlet of Resolute Bay in the Arctic territory of Nunavut. Local residents and soldiers from a nearby military exercise rushed to the scene in a effort to rescue survivors from the wreckage.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Constable Angelique Dignard said two of the survivors — a seven-year-old girl and a 48-year-old man — were transported to a hospital in Ottawa from a medical facility in the Nunavut territorial capital of Iqaluit. A 23-year-old woman remains in a hospital in Iqaluit. Dignard said all three are in stable condition, but she would not comment on the nature of their injuries.

First Air said all four crew members died in the crash. First Air spokesman Christopher Ferris, his voice near breaking, said the cause of the accident has not been determined yet.

"Our thoughts and focus are with the families and friends of the passengers and crew and the community of Resolute Bay," Ferris said. "We would like to thank the Canadian military, whose onsite presence and immediate response was instrumental in the rescue efforts."

Ferris said the airline is fully co-operating with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, whose investigators arrived at the scene shortly after Saturday's crash because they were already in the region for the military exercise. The military had intended to stage a mock airliner crash rescue on Monday.

The RCMP said the plane's two black boxes with flight recordings had been recovered from the crash site. Forensic identification officers have been sent to Resolute Bay to identify the bodies and assist in the investigation.

Aziz Kheraj, the owner of the nearby South Camp Inn, said he had chartered the flight from Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories to Resolute Bay every three weeks for the past six months to bring food and passengers to his hotel. The plane was scheduled to continue on to Grise Fiord on Ellesmere Island.

"It's a bad time," said Kheraj, who lost friends and family in the crash. "We lost quite a few people on that plane, so it's pretty tough. We lost six staff."

Kheraj told The Associated Press by telephone that his two granddaughters were on the plane, but only one of them survived the crash — the 7-year-old girl hospitalized at Ottawa General Hospital.

Kheraj said the crash site remained cordoned off Sunday as investigators continued their work.

"They haven't moved anybody until the coroner shows up," Kheraj said. "They've got everybody covered on the crash site."

Ferris said counselors have been deployed to provide support to residents of Resolute, Yellowknife and other main stations in the airline's network.

Witnesses described how the wreckage was strewn across a hill near the airport runway. The crash has sent a wave of sorrow through the community of about 230 people.

"People are still in shock," said local resident Doreen McDonald.

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 the Resolute Bay airstrip.

Witnesses have said there was thick fog in the area Saturday. An airport worker, who wouldn't give his name, said there was a low cloud ceiling at the time of the crash, which lifted about 10 minutes afterward.

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.

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

Resolute Bay is a tiny community of about 250 people tucked in a shallow, gravelly bay along the northernmost leg of the Northwest Passage. Its population is mostly 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, and assisted in the rescue operation. The plane that crashed was not part of the exercise.

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 was scheduled to travel to Resolute Bay on Monday for his annual trip to the Arctic but his itinerary is now uncertain. Governor General David Johnston and his wife Sharon, who are currently touring Nunavut, were in Resolute on Saturday morning for a previously planned visit. Johnston's events scheduled for Sunday have been cancelled.

Christelle Legault, a spokesman for the governor general, said no one from Johnston's official delegation was on the plane that crashed. Johnston is the representative of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II as Canada's head of state.

Despite its remote location far above the treeline, Resolute is known as the nexus of the North, a frequent staging community for scientific, military and commercial expeditions. It's also the base for the Canadian Polar Continental Shelf project, a federal institution that handles logistics for Arctic researchers. Resolute is also the planned location of the army's new winter warfare school.

The terrain around the community is low and rocky. A large hill fronted by a dramatic cliff face looms behind the town.