Mining company Rio Tinto has confirmed that several of its employees were on a passenger plane that crashed along the border with Alberta in Canada.
Officials are preparing a mass casualty report and authorities have not confirmed the number of deaths. However, Northwest Territories Chief Medical Examiner Garth Eggenberger confirmed to The Daily Beast that several passengers were killed in the crash near Fort Smith on Tuesday morning.
“The NWT Coroner Service has deployed a team to Fort Smith that will work with our investigative partners, the RCMP and the Transportation Safety Board,” Eggenberger said.
“At this time we can confirm that there is a fatality, however we will not be providing any further information until next of kin are notified.”
In a statement, Rio Tinto said the plane was en route to the Diavik diamond mine, about 120 miles south of the Arctic Circle, and the company claims on its website that it “holds some of the most beautiful and sought-after diamonds in the world.” .”
The plane had “a number of our people” on board when it crashed near Fort Smith, it said, noting that the crash resulted in fatalities but giving no further details.
“I would like to express our deepest condolences to the families, friends and loved ones of those affected by this tragedy,” said Jakob Stausholm, chief executive of Rio Tinto. “As a company, we are absolutely devastated by this news and offer our full support to our employees and community as they grieve today.
“We are working closely with the authorities and will assist them in any way we can to find out exactly what happened.”
Sources told local Canadian radio station CKLB Radio that at least 10 people were killed in the crash in Fort Smith on Tuesday morning. At least one survivor was treated for severe burns, the outlet reported.
“Our hearts hurt for the families of the Fort Smith plane crash victims and they are hurting. Together we stand with you during this difficult time,” Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said in a statement released to the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, also citing the number of deaths.
However, the number remained unconfirmed by authorities on Tuesday evening.
Earlier Tuesday, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said it was sending a team of investigators “to investigate an accident involving a BAE Jetstream aircraft registered to Northwestern Air Lease.”
The TSB is gathering information and assessing the incident, it added.
A Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) spokesperson confirmed to CBC that the Canadian Rangers and the Royal Canadian Air Force responded to a report of a loss of contact with an aircraft outside Fort Smith on Tuesday morning and dispatched teams to assist in search and rescue efforts to help .
David Lavallee, a public affairs officer with the RCAF, told CBC that the Rangers spotted the plane near the Slave River west of Fort Smith. He added that search and rescue technicians flew to the crash site armed with medical supplies.
In a statement, the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority confirmed that its Fort Smith Health Center activated its mass casualty protocol around 8:50 a.m. Tuesday “in response to an aviation accident near the community that will continue until the official Instructions have been received that the…”The response to the incident has been completed.” It added: “We are working closely with other emergency agencies.”
For patient confidentiality reasons, it was not possible to provide further details about the crash or those affected at this time.