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Search teams reach Air Tindi plane, report two fatalities

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Search and rescue teams have arrived at the wreckage of an Air Tindi aircraft missing since Wednesday morning. Neither of the two pilots on board survived, RCMP said.

Police made the announcement shortly after 1pm on Thursday, following a day-long mission to reach the site of the downed King Air 200 near Behchokǫ̀.

Initially stating they believed both lives were lost, RCMP later issued an update confirming the deaths.

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The identity of the pilots has not been released. The plane, which had been flying from Yellowknife to Whatì, was not carrying passengers.

What happened to bring the aircraft down has not been confirmed. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada is sending investigators to the scene.

Air Tindi said all of its flights are suspended until further notice, though one aircraft remains on standby for medevac operations.

"Search efforts yesterday resulted in the location of a crash site believed to involve the previously reported missing aircraft," read the RCMP statement.

"As the investigation remains ongoing, and out of respect for the families of those on board, no further information is being released at this time."

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'Chest-high snow'

Describing how the search operation unfolded, Royal Canadian Air Force spokesperson David Lavallee told Cabin Radio a parachute team took six to eight hours to fight through snow from the team's landing site to the location of the aircraft.

"We’re talking chest-high snow," said Lavallee, "and of course they carry with them supplies and medical supplies to help them with what they find on the ground.

"They are trying to get there as quickly as they can but they have to get there safely."

The search and rescue technicians have been picked up and were heading back to Yellowknife at the time of this report.

Their efforts were being hailed by grateful residents despite the apparent tragic outcome of the operation.

"They put their own lives at extreme risk in hopes of saving others and they didn’t give up until the plane was found," Yellowknife resident Patrick Jacobson wrote on a Facebook page devoted to praise for people who help the community.

"Given the blizzard conditions they had to work in yesterday, that’s a monumental feat," he said.

Investigators deployed

Search and rescue teams were first summoned after the company lost contact with the missing plane between 9am and 9:30am on Wednesday morning.

A Hercules aircraft with trained search and rescue technicians was dispatched from Winnipeg later that morning, joining a search which already consisted of Twin Otter aircraft conducting search patterns above the missing flight's intended route.

On Wednesday afternoon, technicians acting on a sighting from the Hercules parachuted in to a "site of interest" which proved to contain the plane.

Poor weather conditions – including deep snow on the ground – made progress toward the site difficult, both for search and rescue technicians and Canadian Rangers coming in from Behchokǫ̀ by snowmobile.

Teams made their way to the crash site using light from an overhead Hercules aircraft overnight.

The overnight low in the area was -24C, with a wind chill down to -33C.

The pilots' next of kin have been informed.

"The Transportation Safety Board is deploying two investigators to the site where the aircraft has been found," spokesperson Chris Krepski told Cabin Radio.

“They are leaving this morning from our regional office and making their way up to the Northwest Territories and then travelling to the site," Krepski added.