The Northwest Territories government says nobody had any idea Russian nationals were aboard a plane now grounded in Yellowknife until after it landed.
According to Transport Canada, two Russian nationals were aboard the charter flight when it arrived in Yellowknife from Geneva on Tuesday. They appear linked to an expedition attempting to cross the globe by car.
Transport Canada has grounded the plane, a Dassault Falcon 900 corporate jet, while an investigation is carried out into whether the aircraft violated Canadian airspace. Planes owned, operated, or chartered by Russians have been barred from Canada’s airspace in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
On Thursday afternoon, Transport Canada told Cabin Radio it had no immediate update.
Yellowknife has no scheduled international flights. In the NWT’s legislature on Thursday, infrastructure minister Diane Archie said the charter flight raised no eyebrows until its passengers were already on the ground at Yellowknife Airport.
“Our understanding is that the plane is registered to a company in Austria. The flight originated in Geneva,” Archive said.
“Until the Canadian border service met the plane here in Yellowknife and determined that the passengers were Russian nationals, there were no flags raised.”
Asked by Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson to confirm the status of the passengers and the aircraft, Archie replied: “Canada continues to gather the facts required to be able to make a determination on the next steps regarding these passengers.” She confirmed the plane was still being held.
“There was no knowledge of the expedition or contact with the department prior to the plane landing on Tuesday,” the minister reiterated.
“I was disappointed with the lack of engagement and am hopeful that they at least reached out to the Yellowknives Dene First Nation or Tłı̨chǫ when accessing their traditional territory.”
The Russian group believed to be involved has not responded to requests for comment. The group’s Instagram profile carried a new post on Thursday that made no mention of events this week.