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Safety board set to issue report on 2011 Resolute Bay plane crash

The wreckage of First Air flight 6560 is pictured in Resolute Bay, Nunavut, on Aug. 23, 2011.


A Nunavut town still reeling from a 2011 plane crash that left a dozen dead and many clamouring for answers will hear from investigators probing the accident, which transformed a military training exercise into a real rescue operation and thrust a northern community into the headlines.

The Transportation Safety Board, an independent government agency, will on Tuesday release its report into First Air Flight 6560, a chartered flight travelling from Yellowknife to Resolute Bay, Nunavut. Chief investigator Brian MacDonald and two board members, Kathy Fox and Joseph Hincke, will release the findings at 11 a.m. in Ottawa.

On Aug. 20, 2011, a First Air jet crashed near the remote Nunavut hamlet, killing 12 and injuring three when the plane slammed into a hill about 1.5 kilometres east of the runway.

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At the time, the town was already the focus of attention. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was slated to arrive two days later for his annual summer tour of the North. Governor-General David Johnston happened to be in Resolute Bay as part of his own Arctic tour. And Canadian Forces soldiers were preparing for Operation Nanook, an annual military exercise that was slated to feature a "major air disaster" simulation later that week.

Among the First Air dead was scientist Marty Bergmann, a Manitoba-based public servant said to have been planning to give Mr. Johnston a tour of the Polar Continental Shelf Program facility in Resolute Bay the day after the crash.

In the nearly three years since, investigators determined the jet was structurally sound, and lawsuits have been filed alleging negligence by the airline, the navigation service provider and the federal government.

In January, 2012, the TSB issued an update on their investigation, noting its engineering laboratory was conducting "exhaustive testing on the aircraft's navigational equipment" since the weather conditions required the crew rely on technology rather than visual references. The plane had already lowered its landing gear and the final landing checklist was complete, but it attempted a "go-around" to abort the landing two seconds before impact.

"Currently, the TSB is classifying this occurrence as a controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) accident," the interim report said. "CFIT occurs when an airworthy aircraft under the control of the flight crew is flown unintentionally into terrain, obstacles or water, usually with no prior awareness by the crew. CFIT is one of the issues identified in the TSB Watchlist."

In February, 2012, the TSB released a safety advisory saying the Forces had set up a temporary "control zone in Resolute Bay to handle increased air traffic for this [Operation Nanook] exercise." It went on to say that at the time of the crash, "the military radar installed for OP Nanook was not useable at the time of the accident as a flight check had not yet been performed to verify radar accuracy."

Had the First Air plane not hit the ground, the advisory said, it could have suffered a midair collision with a second aircraft, which was operating under instrument flight rules and flying "without appropriate separation" from the ill-fated plane.

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Mr. MacDonald of the TSB told The Canadian Press at the time of the January update that "at this point, we have no indication whatsoever [the military's control tower and equipment] has anything to do with the accident."

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