The tiny Arctic community of Resolute Bay, Nunavut is in shock after 12 people were killed and three others injured when a First Air Boeing 737 crashed early Saturday afternoon.

Charter Flight 6560 en route from Yellowknife to Resolute Bay crashed at about 12:50 p.m. local time, according to a statement from the airline.

The last communication from the plane was at 12:40 p.m. local time, when the aircraft was about eight kilometres from the Resolute Bay airport, the statement said.

According to the airline, 11 passengers and four crew members were on board the aircraft when it went down.

RCMP Const. Angelique Dignard told CTV News Channel Saturday evening the survivors were transported to hospital in Iqaluit for treatment. The nature of the injuries sustained by the three survivors -- two adults and one child -- is not known. One of the adults is in critical condition.

Saroomie Manik, a former mayor of Resolute Bay, rushed with other local residents to the crash site on her ATV.

Manik told CTV News Channel that when she arrived at the scene the plane was in pieces, with one of its wings on fire.

She said military personnel were already on the scene when she arrived, putting out the flames and assisting survivors. Manik called the crash a "shock" to the small community.

"It's hard. I just pray for the community and those people who lost their family," she said.

Manik told The Canadian Press that two young granddaughters of a local inn owner were on the plane, as was the inn's cook.

Local resident Doreen McDonald drove past the wreckage on her way home from a camping trip. She said the aircraft, which was clearly visible from the highway, broke into three pieces.

"They were picking up pieces of bodies," she told CP.

A weather report for travellers on First Air's website reported "shallow fog" with a temperature of 7 Celsius at mid-afternoon local time.

Dignard said the plane went down less than two kilometres west of the Resolute Bay airport's landing strip. In addition to the local residents, RCMP officers and military personnel also travelled to the site to search for survivors, she said. The area is accessible by ATV.

Maj. Gerald Favre, of the northern search and rescue centre at CFB Trenton, told the newswire that aircraft from the base, which are in Resolute Bay as part of the military exercise Operation Nanook, are assisting with rescue and recovery efforts.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was scheduled to travel to Resolute Bay to observe the military exercises on Monday.

In a statement, Harper said he was "deeply saddened" by news of the crash.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of those passengers who lost their lives in this tragedy. We also wish a speedy recovery to those who were injured," the prime minister said.

"I would like to thank the dedicated members of the Canadian Armed Forces, who are in Resolute Bay for Operation Nanook 2011 and who have been working tirelessly on the ground with emergency personnel to respond to the situation."

Gov.-Gen. David Johnston, who is travelling in Nunavut and visited military personnel in Resolute Bay earlier Saturday, said he observed Canadian Forces members as they responded to the crash. He also offered condolences to the victims and their families.

"Sharon and I are deeply saddened by the catastrophe that occurred in Resolute Bay, where an airplane crashed earlier this afternoon.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by this tragic event," Johnston said in a statement.

No one from Johnston's delegation was involved in the crash. The governor general's official events originally scheduled for Sunday have been cancelled.

Investigators with the Transportation Safety Board arrived at the site soon after the plane went down. Agency investigators were already in Resolute Bay to participate in military exercises scheduled for next week.

TSB spokesperson Chris Krepski could not comment on the cause of the crash so soon after the incident.

"The first stage in an investigation is a data gathering phase," Krepski said.

"At this point it's gathering as much information as we can from the accident scene, from interviewing witnesses, speaking to air traffic control, getting weather records, maintenance records from the company, that kind of thing."

Aviation analyst Mark Miller said it is "very, very fortunate" that military personnel are in the area for Operation Nanook.

"A number of years ago, search-and-rescue resources in the North were cut back by the Canadian government. This has been a fear for many aviators in the north and many in the military, that we would have this kind of accident," Miller told CTV News.

"Getting an airplane on scene there would have been probably seven-and-a-half hours. It would have been…unlikely we would have had survivors had this happened further out in the landscape."

Miller said investigators will determine if the weather played a factor in the crash, or if instruments that were helping the pilots land the plane were faulty.

RCMP said late Saturday that investigators have recovered two black boxes at the site. Six forensic identification officers will also travel to Resolute, four to help identify the victims and two to aid in the investigation.

Resolute has about 250 residents and sits on a bay along the northern-most edge of the Northwest Passage. It often serves as a staging area for scientific and military expeditions.

First Air services 30 northern communities from cities such as Ottawa, Montreal, Winnipeg and Edmonton. The airline says it transports more than 225,000 passengers and 25 million kilograms of cargo every year.

The airline is entirely owned by the 9,000 Inuit of northern Quebec through Makivik Corp., which was created to invest the proceeds of the 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. The non-profit company purchased the airline in 1990.

According to the airline, the Boeing 737-200 is one of six types of planes in its fleet. It can carry a maximum of 99 passengers.