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A Boeing 737 (737-200) jetliner belonging to First Air is shown in Edmonton, Alta,, on July 15, 2009. A 737 operated by First Air crashed on Aug. 20, 2011. (LARRY MACDOUGAL/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

A Boeing 737 (737-200) jetliner belonging to First Air is shown in Edmonton, Alta,, on July 15, 2009. A 737 operated by First Air crashed on Aug. 20, 2011.

(LARRY MACDOUGAL/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

First Air's fleet involved in two previous accidents Add to ...

The First Air 737-200 that crashed in Nunavut on Saturday was not the carrier's first plane to go down, though one aviation consultant says the airline has a strong reputation for safety within the industry.

In 1996, a Twin Otter flying from Iqaluit to Markham Bay, Nunavut crashed near the landing strip, killing the two people on board, according to the Aviation Safety Network, a privately-run, independent database of aviation accidents.

In 2001, one of the airline's 737-200 jets was involved in an accident on a flight from Edmonton to Yellowknife. None of its 104 passengers and crew was hurt but the plane was “substantially damaged” during a difficult landing that saw its “left nose-tire burst,” according to ASN.

Twelve people died in Saturday's crash near Resolute Bay.

First Air bills itself as the leading airline in Canada's Arctic and provides service between 30 northern communities, with connections to Ottawa, Montreal, Winnipeg and Edmonton, according to its website.

Yvan-Miville Des Chenes, an aviation consultant and retired air traffic controller who once directed First Air planes, said the airline and its crew have a good reputation.

“You have got to remember that those pilots are very well-trained for those types of flights, especially in northern Canada,” he said.

Des Chenes, who researched Saturday's accident, said it appears the plane was met with “big patches of fog” as it approached Resolute Bay.

“Something went wrong during the approach sequence,” he said.

“There were clouds at 300 feet, some other clouds at 800 feet. That's pretty close to the ground.”

Still, Des Chenes said it's too early to say whether the accident was due to the weather or a mechanical failure.

The company lists a fleet of 20 airplanes in all, including six 737-200 jets.

Four of the jets were designed to carry both freight and passengers and two were all-passenger planes.

It was not immediately clear if the plane that crashed was one of the ones that also carries cargo. The airline services more than 225,000 passengers and about 25 million kilograms of cargo every year.

The 737-200 was one of the first models of Boeing's successful 737 twinjet series, and first entered into service in 1968.

According to its website, First Air is owned by the 9,000 Inuit of northern Quebec, through Makivik Corp., created to invest proceeds of the 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.

Makivik Corporation, a non-profit company, purchased First Air in 1990.

The airline has more than 65 years in flying experience, according to its website.

 

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