Survivor of Nunavut plane crash recalls a mother’s anguished cries

SANIKILUAQ, Nunavut — A woman on a plane that crashed in Nunavut, killing an infant, says she heard the child’s frantic mother crying as she and the other survivors clamoured from the wreckage to safety.

SANIKILUAQ, Nunavut — A woman on a plane that crashed in Nunavut, killing an infant, says she heard the child’s frantic mother crying as she and the other survivors clamoured from the wreckage to safety.

Malaya Uppik says she doesn’t know how the tiny six-month-old was killed and she doesn’t remember much about the crash, but she can still hear the mother’s screams.

“I remember she was crying: ‘My baby. I lost my baby,”’ Uppik, 46, said from her home in Sanikiluaq.

“I only hear that she was crying ’My baby’ and ‘I lost my baby’ and that’s all I remember.”

Uppik was one of nine people — seven passengers and two pilots — on the chartered Fairchild Metro 3/23 twin-engine turbo prop when it crashed while landing Saturday night at the airport in Sanikiluaq.

Sanikiluaq is a community of 800 located on the Belcher Islands in the southeastern corner of Hudson Bay. As in all Nunavut communities, flying is the only way in and out.

RCMP say the crash occurred near the end of the runway, which sits on the north tip of Flaherty Island, roughly 150 kilometres from the Quebec shoreline.

The Transportation Safety Board confirmed there was some blowing snow at the time of the crash, but said it was too early to say whether that played a role.

Flight 671 originated in Winnipeg and was chartered for Keewatin Air, which schedules three trips a week between Winnipeg and Sanikiluaq.

The aircraft belonged to Winnipeg-based Perimeter Aviation.

Some of the passengers on board, including Uppik, were in Winnipeg for medical appointments and were on their way home.

Uppik says the baby, a boy, came along on the trip with his mother because he was still breast feeding. RCMP would not confirm the child’s identity.

The primary language in Sanikiluaq is Inuktitut. Uppik struggled to recall what happened in English.

“When the plane crashed, I don’t remember what I was doing,” she said. “I didn’t black out, but … when we looked like crashing, I just closed my eyes.”

When she opened them, Uppik said she heard the pilot yelling for people to get out.

“The pilot went across my seat. He cracked the window. He told us to go out right away,” she said.

The ground was slippery with fuel, but there was no fire. It was dark and she didn’t see the other passengers or how badly they were hurt.

She and another survivor were met by Ski-Doos on the runway and were loaded on a trailer for the ride back to the airport.

RCMP Sgt. Paul Solomon said none of the survivors suffered life-threatening injuries, though he didn’t have details beyond that.

“I don’t have the exact injuries, but I can tell you that the pilot and co-pilot have since been medevaced from Sanikiluaq for further medical treatment,” Solomon said from Iqaluit.

Uppik said she bit her tongue, but was otherwise fine.

“I’m just a little bit tired right now.”

Sarah Qavvik was also on the plane. She said she suffered bruises and hit her head.

She too didn’t have any idea what caused the accident.

“It was so scary,” she said. “I’m still in shock.”

Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation into the crash.

Spokeswoman Gayle Conners said the black box was retrieved by the RCMP and was to be taken into laboratory in Ottawa for analysis.

She said investigators are planning to interview the pilot and co-pilot, examine aircraft maintenance records and the weather to try to determine what caused the crash.

“We’re at the beginning of the investigation,” she said. “It’s the data collection phase.”

Perimeter Aviation president Mark Wehrle said that six staff from Perimeter and Keewatin were heading to the community.

“We’re arranging to go up and meet with the community and all the people involved and work with the authorities to determine the cause and go from there.”

Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak expressed her condolences in a statement.

“It is with profound sadness that I offer my condolences to everyone affected by the tragic plane crash,” she said. “During this holiday season, my thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones of the infant whose life ended far too soon, to the survivors, and to the entire community of Sanikiluaq.”

— By Tim Cook in Edmonton and Ben Shingler in Montreal.