OHS Canada Magazine

‘Quite the experience’: Rescue team provides more details about N.W.T. plane crash

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January 8, 2024
By The Canadian Press

Health & Safety Aviation Safety northwest territories rescue

A CC-130 Hercules aircraft from 436 Transport Squadron arrives in Yellowknife to assist in the evacuation of citizens as part of Operation LENTUS 23-07 on 17 August 2023. Photo: Sailor 1st Class Patrice Harvey, Canadian Armed Forces Photo.

The call came in around mid-afternoon on one of the last days of December.

A team of Royal Canadian Air Force members based in Winnipeg was contacted after the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Trenton, Ont., received word of a plane going down in a remote area of the Northwest Territories and 10 passengers were stranded in Canada’s Arctic.

Within minutes, a crew, including three search-and-rescue techs, boarded a Royal Canadian Air Force CC-130H Hercules aircraft and made the three-and-a-half hour flight to the crash site 300 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife on Dec. 27.

The team was met with high, blistering winds, blowing snow and low visibility. It would take some time before the search-and-rescue members would be able to touch ground.

Once the cloud layers reached a designated height above ground, and it was deemed safe to parachute down, the rescuers made the 600-metre jump.


“It’s like any other training jump we do, except the wind was a bit higher and the visibility was reduced,” said Sgt. Vincent C-Benoit, the team lead for the search-and-rescue mission.

C-Benoit, 34, said these types of rescue missions are more common than people realize, but it was the first time he took part in one of this size.

“Ten survivors on the ground, it’s a first for me.”

The rescue made national headlines after the passengers and the crew were stranded overnight, relying on food and supplies brought by C-Benoit and his team. Heated tents, toboggans loaded with food, clothing and sleeping bags, along with equipment to treat hypothermia, were parachuted down either on their own or attached to those who made the jump.

“We took care of them all night. We fed them a hot meal and we treated their medical conditions until the morning at sunrise when we were able to get extracted via three helicopters,” said C-Benoit.

The Air Tindi Twin Otter carrying two pilots and eight passengers crashed near the Diavik Diamond Mine. The passengers were heading to a camp to begin construction of a winter road.

A preliminary report from the Transportation Safety Board determined the plane, which was fitted with skis, was travelling from Margaret Lake to Lac de Gras in the territory when it crashed as it was attempting to land on the lake.

The president for Air Tindi previously said it was cold and windy at the crash site, which hampered an immediate rescue. Some of the passengers were injured and required medical care.

When military crews arrived, they were met by a group of passengers who had crafted a makeshift shelter to protect themselves from the winds. The rest of the passengers were still inside the plane due to their injuries.

“Everybody was happy to see us,” said C-Benoit.

“All the patients improved throughout the night, so the morale was good. … They’re all good people.”

An emergency response team from Diavik arrived on snowmobiles and assisted with providing medical aid.

While crews were helping on the ground, Capt. Jason Shaw, an aircraft commander, and others aboard the Hercules aircraft were assisting from the air.

“We’re just communicating what we see. We’re building up a picture outside of the area around the crash site and the crash site itself so that everyone in the crew we have has a good situational awareness of the area and we’re sure that the area is safe for us to operate,” he said.

“Once (search-and-rescue) did the initial assessment, they started calling for the survival equipment that they would need overnight. So we were able to drop all that stuff by a parachute to the crash site as well.”

Shaw, 42, was also in charge of preparing the parachute crew for landing. This involved a technique where crew members drop flares around the crash site from different levels in the sky.

“Their entire jump essentially is illuminated so they can see when they land,” he said.

The group was stranded for 14 hours before helicopters were able to pick them up the following morning. They passed the time sharing stories, sleeping and eating military rations, which C-Benoit quipped are “actually quite good these days.”

The territorial government would not comment on the extent of the injuries, citing patient privacy. However, the government said the Stanton Territorial Hospital assessed those on board the plane and all were “considered stable.” No one was admitted to hospital.

C-Benoit said he is proud of the work he and his team did and will remember the relief the passengers felt when they were eventually greeted by loved ones.

“It was quite the experience for everyone.”

— By Brittany Hobson in Winnipeg


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