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A plane carrying workers to a Rio Tinto diamond mine in the Northwest Territories has crashed just above the border with Alberta, killing multiple passengers.

A spokesman for the multinational company did not say how many miners have died in the Tuesday morning crash but confirmed late that evening “a number of our people” were on a flight to the Diavik mine when it came down near the town of Fort Smith, where local authorities prepared the hospital to receive multiple wounded patients.

The NWT Coroners Service confirmed early Tuesday evening that there were fatalities linked to the crash of the local airline flight, but could not say how many have died as the authorities work to notify the family of the victims.

Rio Tinto’s chief executive officer Jakob Stausholm said in a statement that his company is working closely with the government agencies to help “find out exactly what has happened.”

“I would like to extend our deepest sympathy to the families, friends, and loved ones of those who have been affected by this tragedy,” his statement 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.”

The territorial health authority said it would offer round-the-clock counselling to those grappling with the disaster, but there was no official word on how many people had been killed.

The NWT Coroner Service confirmed early Tuesday evening that there were fatalities linked to the crash of the local airline flight but declined more information as authorities worked to notify families of the victims.

The Town of Fort Smith issued a brief statement saying, “Our hearts are broken.”

NWT Premier R. J. Simpson thanked first responders and offered condolences to the family and friends of those killed.

“The impact of this incident is felt across the territory,” he said in a statement. “The people we lost were not just passengers on a flight; they were neighbours, colleagues, friends and loved ones. Their stories and contributions to our communities will not be forgotten.”

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada said the plane that crashed was a British Aerospace Jetstream registered to Northwestern Air Lease.

The airline’s website said it has two of the planes in its fleet, which can carry 19 passengers.

A representative for the company did not provide an immediate comment but confirmed it was a charter plane.

The safety board is sending investigators to the scene.

In a news release, the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority said it had triggered its protocol for handling a mass casualty, when the number of patients and the treatment required could exhaust a facility’s available resources to respond and manage its day-to-day operations.

“We are working closely with other emergency response agencies,” it said.

Police officials have not said how many people were on the plane that crashed, or if there were any injuries or fatalities.

“The RCMP is providing assistance to Transport Canada, who has the mandate to investigate any aviation incidents, and the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre, who has the mandate of search-and-rescue for aviation incidents,” Inspector Dean Riou, with RCMP media relations, said in an e-mail.

Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre Trenton confirmed the military responded when the plane lost contact shortly after taking off near Fort Smith, about 740 kilometres south of Yellowknife.

The Air Force, RCMP and Canadian Rangers were all involved in the search-and-rescue, said David Lavallee, a public affairs officer with Search and Rescue Region Trenton.

Three Air Force squadrons provided air support, while police and rangers conducted a search on the ground, he said.

Mr. Lavallee said a CC-130H Hercules aircraft travelled to the site from Calgary and a CC-130J Hercules was sent from Trenton, Ont. A Twin Otter aircraft was sent from Yellowknife.

“Canadian Rangers located the aircraft near the Slave River,” and search-and-rescue members parachuted into the site, he said.

Aaron Perrott said his class at Aurora College in Fort Smith was cancelled Tuesday morning because of a power outage. It wasn’t until around 9:30 a.m. that he heard there was a plane crash. All the people he knows in the fire department were called out, he said via Facebook messenger.

Around noon, Mr. Perrott said he saw a Hercules and a Twin Otter circling in the sky.

“I was hoping for the best, for the passengers, crew, responders, families and the rest of town. It’s very close-knit here, and this town has already been through a lot this past year.”

St. John`s Anglican Church in Fort Smith held a special prayer service late Tuesday afternoon. The church’s priest in charge, Aaron Solberg, said after a long day of waiting for news, and at a time when not much information and not many details were available, there was a need for people to be able to come out to have some silence and to find some peace and to be able to pray.

“Because it’s really hard to release your emotions in times,” he said.

Father Solberg said Tuesday’s service was a little bit different from the church’s usual evening time of prayer, with some reading of Psalms, and some long pauses in between

He didn’t know whether any friends or families of the victims were at the service because he didn’t ask who was there, He said he hadn’t seen the list of the victims so he could not comment on whether he knows anyone in the community that was on the plane.

“We are a very close knit community here. And we’ve had a lot of tragedy this year with the wildfires and everything, and this is another tragedy. We really need to make sure we come together to really talk and spend time with each other so that there can be real healing.”

With files from The Canadian Press

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