On August 20th a Boeing 737-200 operated by First Air made a radio call "eight kilometres from the airport" the Resolute Bay airport, then crashed ten minutes later. I don't know the content of the radio call but as they don't say it was a distress call, I assume it was a routine call to airport radio. Eight kilometres is five miles, the DME of the final approach fix for the GNSS or LOC/DME approach. The plates at the link are outdated and I don't have a northern region CAP with me to check the current procedures, but there is no reason to assume they have changed.
A reporter's retelling of an eyewitness report describes the airplane coming into view not aligned with the runway and then starting a missed approach. Generally eyewitness accounts aren't worth much because humans aren't actually very good at seeing unexpected events, or at remembering what they saw, but in a community like that, the airplanes are life and everyone would be familiar with what the airplane looks and sounds like coming into land, so the report of a deviation from normal may be accurate. Here's another account, from one of the three survivors, Gabrielle Pelky, a seven year old girl, confirming that everything seemed normal. The Vancouver Sun story says Gabrielle literally walked away from the crash, but an Edmonton story says she had a broken leg, so there's either some inaccuracy here or one damned tough little girl. It's hard to imagine
An odd part of the story is that the emergency response was the best it could possibly have been, because the accident happened during a joint exercise of the military and emergency services, aimed at improving emergency response in remote communities such as Resolute Bay, response to disasters such as a cruise ship sinking or air crash. I wonder if there was a moment of confusion when a real emergency cropped up. Southern readers may find it odd that there were only fifteen people aboard a B737, but the First Air aircraft would have been configured as a combi, with cargo not only below deck as on most passenger airlines, but filling most of what would otherwise be the passenger cabin, with a bulkhead delineating the seating section.
Chances are every single resident of Resolute Bay directly knew or was related to someone on that airplane, and that almost everyone in Nunavut and the NWT knows someone who knew someone. Twelve people out of the entire Nunavut population of 33,000 is, percentage-wise equivalent to 2900 out of eight million residents of New York. Uh, that number is uncomfortably close to matching that of a disaster New York has experienced. I was going to switch to another state, but I think I'll let it stand. To the population of Nunavut, this is a major tragedy. I'm sure it's a horrible thing for First Air, too. It's a community unto itself, as large as many of the destinations it serves. My heart goes out to everyone touched by the loss.
There may have been an e-mail correspondent who was going to send something for this blog on the airplane, and the complete passenger list hasn't yet been released. I'll let you know in the next couple of weeks either by posting information on his research or telling you what it was going to be about.
Update: Here's a good newsreel from the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network and here's a passenger list with descriptions of the people. The researcher who died was not my arctic researcher. There's an eerie number of first-time air travellers,nervous flyers and and air crash survivors among the passengers. Remember the old joke about the passengers' belief in physics being required to sustain flight?
2nd Update: Reader Sarah linked this excellent article, showing me wrong in several respects, demonstrating the futility of speculating on these things. Commenters on the linked article continue to speculate nevertheless.