Families, co-workers mourn First Air crash casualties

One of three crash survivors, Gabrielle Pelky, leaves Ottawa hospital


(updated Aug. 23, 7:15 p.m.)

In one of the only good news stories to emerge from the fatal crash of flight 6560 in Resolute Bay Aug. 20, the youngest survivor is set to be released from an Ottawa hospital Aug. 22.

Seven-year-old Gabrielle Pelky defied the odds when she survived the weekend crash with only a broken leg and some cuts to her head.

Twelve people perished when the First Air Boeing 737-200C slammed into a local hill near the Resolute Bay airport before 1:00 p.m., including Gabrielle’s six-year-old sister, Cheyenne Eckalook.

The father of the two girls, Lindsey Pelky of Kelowna, B.C. told Nunatsiaq News Aug. 22 his two daughters had spent the summer with him at his home in Kelowna.

Late last week, Pelky took his daughters to Edmonton, so they could fly to Yellowknife to get onto flight 6560, where they were to travel with Chesley Tibbo and Michael Rideout, two workers at the South Camp Inn.

“We said our last good-byes on Friday [Aug. 20],” Pelky said.

Pelky said his daughters have always lived in Resolute Bay, but were preparing for a move to Iqaluit.

Anne Rideout promised herself she wouldn’t cry as she bid adieu to her husband of 41 years, Michael.

She smiled as he walked away, to board a flight from Newfoundland to Edmonton to escort Cheyenne and Gabrielle aboard a First Air flight to their step-grandfather’s home in Resolute Bay, Nunavut.

“He said to me before he left, ‘I’m happy to get the girls. I won’t let them out of my sight,’ ” Rideout said. “I’m sure he didn’t.”

It is one of the last memories she has of her husband, a tale being repeated across the country for those who lost loved ones when First Air flight 6560 crashed in Resolute Bay.

Two other adults, a 23-year-old woman and a 48-year-old man, also survived and are being treated in hospital.

From her Ottawa hospital bed at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, Gabrielle was smiling and joking with relatives, her uncle, Terry Audla, said.

“They’re fitting her with crutches today to see if she can use them,” he said. “If all goes well, she’ll stay [in Ottawa] for a week or so before she can come back.”

The girl’s step-grandfather, South Camp Inn owner Aziz Kheraj, chartered the First Air jet to bring in supplies and staff, along with the two girls.

Audla described Cheyenne a “very confident, rambunctious” little girl.

“She was afraid of no one,” he said. “And she always brought a smile to the face of anyone near her.”

But Gabrielle “will miss her little sister.”

Family and friends in both Resolute Bay and Iqaluit and across the country are just trying to cope with the loss, Audla said.

“As much as they can, they want to concentrate their efforts on Gabi right now,” he said. “They’re cocooning around her.”

RCMP in Nunavut released the flight manifest Aug. 22, listing the 11 passengers and four crew members aboard flight 6560 – names that would include those of a 23-year-old female and 48-year-old male survivors.

The two, who are being treated in an Ottawa hospital, were identiifed as 23-year-old Nicole Williamson, a student at Carelton University, and 48-year-old Robin Wyllie.

In an Aug. 23 statement Williamson’s family thanked rescue workers, medical staff and “all Canadians who share our relief and wonder at this miracle in the midst of tragedy.”

“Nicole wishes to express her deepest gratitude to the members of the Canadian Forces, Operation Nanook, and to the Resolute Bay responders present at the crash site for their efficiency under the circumstances. In her mind, their presence at the scene shortly after the accident was a critical factor in the success of the rescue effort,” the statement reads.

“Her treatment involves pain management and her recovery is critically dependent on rest and healing of bruises and cuts to her body caused by the crash.”

Staff at the Resolute Bay-based Polar Continental Shelf project are mourning their director, Martin (Marty) Bergmann, who perished in the Aug. 20 crash.

Since 2007, Winnipeg-based Bergmann headed the federal program, which provides logistics services to researchers in the Arctic.

Bergmann was scheduled to give a tour of the program’s Resolute Bay facilities this week to both governor general David Johnston and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

But Bergmann’s work in Canada’s Arctic stretches back several decades as a research biologist with the federal government and former director of Arctic research with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

“If it was good for Canada, good for the Arctic, and good for the people of the North, Marty Bergmann would make it happen,” Geoff Green, founder of the Students on Ice program, posted on twitter. “We will miss you.”

“I offer my most heartfelt condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Marty Bergmann, a dedicated public servant who died on Saturday in the tragic plane crash near Resolute Bay,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in an Aug. 22 statement. “His legacy will live on in the science benefitting Northern families and in exercising Canada’s sovereignty over its Arctic territory. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Sheila and his four children during this very difficult time. He will be greatly missed.”

“Marty’s passion for the north was positively infectious; his legacy with Arctic science and logistics in the north and the PCSP are immeasurable,” said Natural Resources minister Joe Oliver.

The aviation community in Yellowknife lost three of its own Aug. 20, when all of First Air flight 6560 crew was killed.

That includes Yellowknife-based co-captain David Hare, 35, and flight attendants Ann Marie Chassie and Ute Merritt.

Hare, who had worked for First Air for four years, leaves a wife and three young daughters.

Chassie, 42, a mother of two, worked for 22 years for First Air. She also worked part-time as a nurse in Yellowknife.

Merritt, 55, had worked for First Air for four years. She had five grown children and grandchildren with her husband Jim, who works as a Hercules pilot with First Air.

Flight 6560 was flown by captain Blair Rutherford, 48, an Edmonton-based father of two, had worked 15 years for First Air where his wife is also a flight attendant.

Six of the deceased were workers at Resolute Bay’s South Camp Inn, including the inn’s cook, Randy Reid and two contract workers from Newfoundland.

Chesley Tibbo, a carpenter from Habour Mille and Michael Rideout, an electrician from Mount Pearl had survived a previous Nunavut plane crash in 2008, when a Summit Air charter crash landed short of the airport runway in Cambridge Bay.

The flight manifest also names Lise Lamoureux, Steve Girouard and Raymond Pitre as passengers aboard flight 6560.

A Bathurst, N.B. radio station reported Lamoureux and Girouard as a local couple who died in the crash, while Pitre is thought to hail from the same region.

Rideout said she hadn’t received an answer about when she will be able to bring her husband home and lay him to rest. Many of Michael’s friends only found out Monday that he died in the crash, she said, and they, too, were looking for answers.

With files from Postmedia News

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