Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut August 19, 2016 - 4:00 pm

Nunavut sees fifth anniversary of deadly plane crash pass quietly

“It’s always going to be painful, as long as we’re here"

SARAH ROGERS
Family members, friends and Resolute Bay residents remember First Air flight 6560 Aug. 20, 2012 at a memorial set up at the crash site. (PHOTO COURTESY OF N. KHERAJ)
Family members, friends and Resolute Bay residents remember First Air flight 6560 Aug. 20, 2012 at a memorial set up at the crash site. (PHOTO COURTESY OF N. KHERAJ)
This image shows the wreckage of flight 6560 strewn across a hillside outside of Resolute Bay shortly after the Aug. 20, 2011 crash. (FILE PHOTO)
This image shows the wreckage of flight 6560 strewn across a hillside outside of Resolute Bay shortly after the Aug. 20, 2011 crash. (FILE PHOTO)
Residents of Resolute Bay release balloons at a 2012 memorial near the plane crash site outside the community. (PHOTO COURTESY OF N. KHERAJ)
Residents of Resolute Bay release balloons at a 2012 memorial near the plane crash site outside the community. (PHOTO COURTESY OF N. KHERAJ)

Time may help us heal from trauma, but it doesn’t necessarily make that trauma easier to talk about.

That’s how many community members in Resolute Bay and family members of victims of First Air flight 6560 feel as Nunavut remembers — mostly in private — the fifth anniversary of one its deadliest plane crashes.

Twelve people perished when the First Air Boeing 737-200C slammed into a local hill near the Resolute Bay airport mid-day on Aug. 20, 2011.

Victims included pilot Blair Rutherford from Leduc, Alta., his co-pilot David Hare of Yellowknife, and flight attendants Anne Marie Chassie and Ute Merritt, both from Yellowknife.

Martin Bergmann, the Winnipeg-based director of Canada’s Polar Continental Shelf Program also died in the crash, along with South Camp Inn staff member Randy Reid of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., Micheal Rideout of Mount Pearl, N.L., Chesley Tibbo of Harbour Mille, N.L., Raymond Pitre, Steven Girouard and Lise Lamoureux from Bathurst, N.B.

Three passengers survived the deadly crash, among them, visiting geologists Robin Wyllie and Nicole Williamson, along with then seven-year-old Resolute Bay resident Gabrielle Aleeasuk Pelky.

But Pelky’s miraculous survival did little to temper the loss of her younger, six-year-old sister Cheyenne, who died in the accident.

The girls’ mother, Brenda Eckalook, said she prefers to grieve and remember privately on Aug. 20, along with Gabrielle, now a 12-year-old student at Aqsarniit school in Iqaluit, where the family lives.

The airline will not host any memorial service Aug. 20, noting most victims’ family members prefer to mourn in private.

“We will never forget the darkest day of our history and we will always remember those that lost their lives in this tragic accident,” First Air said in an email to Nunatsiaq News, “but most of us prefer to reflect on this in our own way.”

In Resolute Bay, a memorial erected at the crash site serves as a focal point for the community’s collective loss and a place people can go to remember.

At the site sits a large plaque which lists the names of the flight’s 12 victims, erected by community members Aziz Kheraj and Aleeasuk Idlout, Cheyenne’s grandparents and employers.

Kheraj chartered the First Air jet to bring in supplies and staff at his South Camp Inn.

“Poppy and Randy, look after out baby Cheyenne,” reads the plaque, which is surrounded by flowered wreaths and stones.

Today, the crash site itself leaves little trace of the plane’s heavy impact along the hillside outside the High Arctic village of 250.

The only noticeable change to the landscape is a gravel road that connects the hamlet to the memorial site, a mark of what is now intrinsic to the community’s story.

“It’s always going to be [painful] as long as we’re here,” said Tabitha Mullin, a town councillor who served as mayor of Resolute Bay at the time of the accident.

During the years that followed the accident, there was a steady stream of psychologists who visited the community, offering support to victims’ families and the local Canadian Rangers, firefighters and health care workers who were among the first to arrive at the crash site.

“I think it’s something they’ll never forgot, but they’re dealing with it now,” Mullin said.

“It was tragic,” she added. “It will never be forgotten, but the pain is getting less and less as the time goes.”

The Transportation and Safety Board’s investigation and final report revealed the crash was a result of a number of factors, from an accidental change in the aircraft’s autopilot mode to a faulty compass reading and crew miscommunication as the pilots directed the jet through dense fog.

The one official recommendation to come from that report called for improved training standards in crew resource management — a crew member’s ability to use all resources available to them, be it human, hardware and information — a form of training the airline has since modernized.

The crash also produced lawsuits from the families of the victims and survivors as well as from First Air.

In 2012, the three survivors and the families of eight deceased persons filed lawsuits against First Air, Nav Canada and the Department of National Defence to seek compensation for damages inflicted on them by the crash.

And First Air also launched a lawsuit against the Department of National Defence, alleging negligence on behalf of air traffic controllers who were at the Resolute Bay airport at the time as part of a military exercise.

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