Rescuers parachuted into the scene of a deadly plane crash near a remote community in Canada's North on Tuesday.

The Transportation Safety Board said the British Aerospace Jetstream passenger plane went down near Fort Smith, N.W.T., which is by the Alberta boundary.

The plane had taken off from the community's airport when it lost contact and crashed near the banks of the frigid Slave River.

It was registered to Northwestern Air Lease, and the company said the aircraft had been chartered.

Mining company Rio Tinto said a number of its staff were on the plane headed to its Diavik Diamond Mine, 300 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife.

"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," said a statement.

There was no immediate word on how many people were on board the flight, but the airline's website said that type of plane can carry 19 passengers. 

The condition of those on the plane was not known, but the territory's coroner's office said there were fatalities.

The hospital in Fort Smith, a community of about 2,500 people, activated its mass casualty protocol. Such a protocol is initiated when the number of patients and treatment required could exhaust a hospital's resources.

"We are working closely with other emergency response agencies," the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority said in a release. 

The crash kicked off a massive rescue effort.

Joint Rescue Coordination Centre Trenton said the military responded when the plane lost contact after takeoff.

The Air Force, RCMP and Canadian Rangers were all involved in the search-and-rescue, said public affairs officer David Lavallee.

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

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

"Canadian Rangers located the aircraft near the Slave River, and (search-and-rescue) … parachuted into the site," said Lavallee. 

Investigators will be working to determine what went wrong. The safety board said that a team was on its way to the site.

N.W.T. 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.“

An Air Tindi plane chartered to help with winter road construction crashed last month near the Diavik mine.

A military crew parachuted down to help the 10 stranded crew and passengers overnight until they could be rescued, and everyone survived.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Jan. 23, 2024. 

— By Brittany Hobson in Winnipeg