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Diavik plane crash leaves NWT reeling

North of 60 Mining News - January 26, 2024

Routine flight turns tragedy as six reported dead after crash; authorities, Rio Tinto seek to determine cause.

A routine trip on a small Jetstream aircraft on its way to Rio Tinto's Diavik diamond mine turned to tragedy when the flight crashed shortly after takeoff near Fort Smith, Northwest Territories.

"We have been informed by authorities that a plane on its way to our Diavik mine, carrying a number of our people, crashed near Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, Canada, resulting in fatalities," the company wrote in a Jan. 24 statement.

A small passenger plane carrying workers to the Diavik diamond mine crashed Tuesday near Fort Smith, a small town about 740 kilometers (460 miles) south of the Northwest Territories capital of Yellowknife, killing six of the seven people on board, according to Canadian authorities.

The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police confirmed the fatalities.

Belonging to regional carrier Northwestern Air, the jet reportedly went down roughly 500 yards from the runway at Fort Smith Regional Airport, Canadian national broadcaster CBC News reported.

The Fort Smith Health Center was reported as activating its "Mass Causality Protocol in response to the crash at approximately 8:50 in the morning."

Following the accident, it was confirmed through the Northwest Territories' coroner's office that there were fatalities, however, the exact number was not immediately known as officials did not know how many people were on board the aircraft. The British Aerospace Jetstream can seat up to 19 people.

Devastating loss in NWT

Receiving the news of the incident, Rio Tinto expressed its devastation.

"I would like to extend our deepest sympathy to the families, friends, and loved ones of those who have been affected by this tragedy," said Rio Tinto CEO Jakob Stausholm. "As a company we are absolutely devastated by this news and offering our full support to our people and the community who are grieving today."

The following day, reports came in that of the seven people on board, six had passed away, four being staff of Rio Tinto's Diavik, with the other two being flight crew.

"We have been informed by authorities that four team members from our Diavik diamond mine and two airline crew members have died in a plane crash near Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, Canada. Another member of our Diavik team survived the crash and received treatment in hospital. The charter flight was on its way to Diavik," the company wrote.

While the loss is felt by Rio, the community that makes up the scattered collective of towns, villages, and people in the north were especially reeling.

"The community is in shock, we're a very close-knit community," said Fort Smith Deputy Mayor Dianna Korol to CBC News.

Korol spoke to CBC News before heading to the community's Anglican church, which was hosting a special prayer service late Tuesday afternoon.

"Everybody has a little piece – or somebody that they know. It's very devastating," she added. "The families are grieving, and we just hope that everybody has the strength to carry on and get through this tragedy."

Northwest Territories' Premier R.J. Simpson also addressed the family and friends of those who died in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

"The impact of this incident is felt across the territory," he wrote. "The people we lost were not just passengers on a flight; they were neighbours, colleagues, friends and loved ones. Their stories and contributions to our communities will not be forgotten."

He also encouraged those impacted by the news to reach out for help.

"To those affected by this tragedy: as you navigate this time of grief and sorrow, remember that you have the thoughts and prayers of residents across the N.W.T.," he wrote. "We stand with you, we grieve with you, and we share the pain of your loss."

Looking for answers

As for the details of the incident, investigations are still ongoing, and the TSB has deployed a team of investigators to examine the crash.

Hoping to understand all the facts of this tragic incident, Rio Tinto has also offered its help in whatever ways it can.

"We are feeling numb with the devastating news that we have lost dear friends and colleagues. I extend our deepest sympathy to the families, friends, and loved ones of those who have been affected by this tragedy," said Stausholm. "I am heading to the Northwest Territories to be with our team and to offer our full support."

"We will be working closely with authorities over the coming days, weeks and months, to support their efforts to understand the full facts of what has happened," he added.


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