A leading scientist. Two inseparable sisters, torn asunder at ages six and seven. A man flying on his 49th birthday, en route from his sister’s funeral.
Details of the victims of First Air flight 6560 have emerged as people from aboriginal Canada and beyond deal with the blow of losing 12 people who loved the north, many of them aboriginal.
The Boeing 737-200 was traveling from Yellowknife to Resolute Bay when it went down five miles from the airport on Saturday August 20, First Air said in a media release.
As authorities examined the Boeing 737’s black boxes to determine the cause of the August 20 crash, the losses reverberated nationwide. On a scheduled visit to Resolute Bay, Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave condolences and praised the lifesaving rescue efforts.
"Our thoughts and prayers remain with those affected by Saturday's tragic plane crash," Harper said during his sixth annual Arctic tour. "Thanks to the herculean efforts of first responders, including members of the Canadian Armed Forces, lives were saved that otherwise might have been lost."
The accident led to calls for more response teams in the north to ensure the rapid rescue engendered by the proximity of 1,100 military personnel scheduled to take part the following day in an exercise that was to include a simulated plane-crash rescue. Instead they ended up rushing to the real thing.
In all, victims came from four provinces—Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador—as well as the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Aged six through 65, they included an engaged couple, two survivors of previous plane crashes and a first-time flier.
One of the victims was Marty Bergmann, director of Natural Resources Canada's Polar Continental Shelf Program. The father of four hailed from Winnipeg, Manitoba. He was traveling to Resolute Bay to meet with Governor General David Johnston and give him and, a day later, Harper, tours of the Polar Continental Shelf Program facility in the town, CBC News said.
Harper called him a dedicated public servant.
“Marty Bergmann spent his life in pursuit of sharing the importance and relevance of the Arctic through science," Harper said in a statement. "He engaged Northern communities and worked to integrate traditional knowledge in the advancement of science."
Also killed was Cheyenne Eckalook, the six-year-old granddaughter of South Camp Inn owner Aziz Kheraj, who lost six staff members too. He had chartered the flight. Cheyenne’s sister, 7-year-old Gabrielle Pelky, was treated for a broken leg and facial lacerations. The girls were grand-nieces of Bishop Andrew Atagotaaluk of the diocese of the Arctic, according to the Anglican Journal. The Globe and Mail portrayed them as "inseparable ambassadors" of the little town.
Two others survived: 23-year-old Nicole Williamson, who helped Gabrielle away from the crash site, and 48-year-old Robin Wyllie.
Passenger Chesley Tibbo turned 49 the day of the flight and was coming back from his sister’s funeral in Newfoundland, CBC News reported. A carpenter, he was building houses in Resolute Bay. He had survived a 2008 plane crash.
Michael Rideout, 65, was South Camp’s electrician. He had been in two previous plane crashes—one 30 years ago in Newfoundland and another one with Tibbo in 2008, Rideout's wife told CBC News. He was set to retire in December. Randy Reid, another passenger, was a cook at South Camp, the network said.
Also among the dead were passengers Steve Girouard and his fiancée, Lise Lamoureux, both from New Brunswick. It was her first time flying, the CBC said. Passenger Raymond Pitre was also from New Brunswick, the network said, all three of them from the Bathurst area.
The crash resonated personally with Leona Aglukkaq, the Member of Parliament for Nunavut and the country’s minister of health, as well as minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency. Not only had she flown on that very plane before and known the crew, CTV reported, but she also lost a childhood friend in one of the flight attendants.
“We went to school together, her father was my high school teacher, so it hit home,” she told the network.
First Air mourned four colleagues.
“We are deeply saddened by this tragedy and offer our sincere condolences to the families,” said Chris Ferris, the vice president of marketing and sales, in a press conference from the airline’s offices near Ottawa on Sunday August 21.
The crew members killed, according to the airline, were:
Captain Blair Rutherford, 48, was with the airline for 15 years, First Air said, and flew out of Yellowknife though lived in Leduc, Alberta. His wife, Tatiana, is a flight attendant with First Air as well.
David Hare, 35, was with the airline for four years. The youngest of the Yellowknife-based first officer’s three daughters was just a month old, the Canadian Press reported.
Head attendant Ann Marie Chassie, a flight attendant for 22 years with the company, was a 42-year-old single mother of two teenagers. She too lived in Yellowknife.
Likewise, 55-year-old flight attendant Ute Merrit, whose husband is a First Air Captain, left five children behind, also in Yellowknife.
But the losses reverberated throughout the north's small, close-knit communities, Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak told CBC News.
"We have 25 communities in Nunavut and we always feel the pain and loss of those who perished as if they were part of our community," she said. "We have such a connectedness in all of our communities. So our hearts and thoughts go out to all those affected throughout and especially those in Resolute."