Mining company Rio Tinto has confirmed a number of its employees were on a passenger plane that crashed along the Alberta boundary in Canada.
Officials are preparing a mass casualty protocol and authorities have not confirmed the number of deaths, however chief coroner of the Northwest Territories Garth Eggenberger confirmed to The Daily Beast that a number of passengers had been killed in the crash near Fort Smith Tuesday morning.
“The NWT Coroner Service has dispatched a team to Fort Smith who will be working with our investigative partners, the RCMP and the Transportation Safety Board,” Eggenberger said.
“At this time, we can confirm there are fatalities but we will not be providing any additional information pending next of kin notifications.”
In a statement, Rio Tinto said the plane was on its way to the Diavik diamond mine, approximately 120 miles south of the Arctic Circle, and which the company claims on its website, “holds some of the world’s most beautiful and sought-after diamonds.”
The plane was carrying “a number of our people” when it crashed near Fort Smith, it added, noting the crash resulted in fatalities but did not include further details.
“I would like to extend our deepest sympathy to the families, friends, and loved ones of those who have been affected by this tragedy, Rio Tinto Chief Executive, Jakob Stausholm said. “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.
“We are working closely with authorities and will help in any way we can with their efforts to find out exactly what has happened.”
Sources told local Canadian radio station CKLB Radio that at least 10 people perished in the crash at Fort Smith Tuesday morning. At least one survivor was being treated for severe burns, the outlet reported.
“Our hearts ache for the Fort Smith plane crash victims’ families, and those hurt. Together, we stand with you in this difficult time,” Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said in a statement posted on the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, also making note of the number of deaths.
The number, however, remained unconfirmed by authorities Tuesday night.
Earlier Tuesday, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said it was deploying 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 occurrence, it added.
A spokesperson for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) confirmed to CBC that the Canadian Rangers and the Royal Canadian Air Force responded to a report of lost contact with an aircraft outside of Fort Smith Tuesday morning and deployed teams to assist with search and rescue efforts.
David Lavallee, a public affairs officer with the RCAF, told CBC that Rangers discovered the plane near Slave River, west of Fort Smith. He added that search and rescue techs parachuted to the crash site armed with medical supplies.
In a statement, the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority confirmed its Fort Smith Health Centre activated its Mass Casualty protocol at approximately 8:50am Tuesday “in response to an aviation incident near the community, which will continue until official direction is received that the incident response has concluded.” It added: “We are working closely with other emergency response agencies.”
It was unable to provide more details about the crash “or any impacted individuals at this time due to patient confidentiality.”