None of the 21 passengers and three crew members aboard the Buffalo Airways DC-3 was injured in the incident, which took place about 5 p.m. Monday.
Passengers told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. the plane took off from Yellowknife, headed for Hay River, Northwest Territories, when just 30 seconds or so after takeoff the plane's right engine burst into flames. The pilot was able to turn around the aircraft and point it back toward the airport runway.
As it plummeted back toward earth, passengers said the plane clipped trees and narrowly missed a set of power lines before making a hard landing in a ditch about 300 feet shy of the runway.
"Honest to God, we were cutting the trees," passenger Dave Connolly said. "I mean [the pilot] was able to take the tops off a few trees and fly it into a clear field. Had we hit the trees, had we gone totally into the trees, it would've been game over and he just missed the wires by inches. Some great force was with us; well, a damn good pilot but I'll give it a damn good pilot and a good force."
Canadian transportation officials were headed to the scene to investigate the incident.