Air Tindi’s president thanked search and rescue teams who worked through the night to reach a stricken aircraft, as the airline began to grieve for two employees believed lost.
Late on Thursday afternoon, RCMP confirmed both pilots aboard a King Air 200 passed away when it came down on Wednesday.
No passengers were on board. The airline said the crash site is around 30 km outside Whatì.
The cause of the crash is not yet determined, and the investigation could take many months to reach conclusions.
Al Martin, Air Tindi’s president, said staff were in “a lot of pain” after he spoke to employees about the apparent loss of the two pilots, who are not yet being identified by the airline.
“Air Tindi is a small company, it’s a very tight-knit company. There are a lot of people hurting at the moment,” said Martin.
“The primary focus is always on the families, and then on to our employees and anyone else – our partners with AMS and Med-Response in Stanton – a lot of people know the people involved. There is a lot of pain.”
Air Tindi was in touch with the pilots’ families throughout, Martin said, having lost contact with the aircraft between 9am and 9:30am on Wednesday.
“We have a very well-developed emergency response plan and that kicked in yesterday morning,” he said.
“One of the key priorities there is to get in contact with families and provide any support we can. That’s what’s been going on for the last day or so and will continue, obviously.”
Search teams praised
Martin thanked everyone directly involved in the search and rescue operation, which involved a profoundly difficult journey through deep snow to reach the location of the aircraft.
“We’re talking chest-high snow,” said David Lavallee, a spokesperson for the Royal Canadian Air Force, “and of course they carry with them supplies and medical supplies to help them with what they find on the ground.”
Search and rescue technicians parachuted from a Hercules aircraft before making their way through the night, under light from the Hercules, to the downed plane’s remote resting place.
Their actions were hailed by Yellowknife residents on Thursday, despite the operation’s tragic outcome.
“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,” said Jacobson.
Martin also thanked local businesses for their offers of help, and everyone who had been in touch to express support.
“Just a big thank-you, it is appreciated. It does help, albeit in very sad circumstances,” he said.
Air Tindi’s operations remain limited, with a very small number of flights on Thursday to retrieve people left stranded when its services were suspended on Wednesday.
The airline will reassess the situation on Friday morning.
Transportation Safety Board officials have reached the crash site, Martin said, and the airline is waiting to meet those officials on their return to Yellowknife.
“Obviously, we want to find out what happened as soon as possible and we will also have our own investigation,” said Martin, adding the results of those investigations could take months or up to a year.
“It’s a very exhaustive process,” he said. “There is a lot of work to both identify what may have happened, but also to eliminate other options.”