Sierra Leone: Togolese Sports Minister, Others, Perish

4 June 2007 at 07:32 | 1088 views

A helicopter ferrying passengers to Freetown airport in Sierra Leone has crashed, killing at least 21 people.

The passengers were mainly from Togo, reportedly including the country’s sports minister, and were returning from an international football match.
One of the Russian pilots survived when the helicopter burst into flames as it came into land.
Helicopters and ferries are the only way to reach the airport, which is located across a bay from Freetown.
The passengers had been watching Togo beat Sierra Leone 1-0 an African Nations Cup qualifier, and had chartered the helicopter for the seven-minute flight from the city to the airport.
Togolese Sports Minister Atipe Kwako was among the dead, according to the AFP news agency.
But none of the national football team was on board; they were waiting in Freetown for the next shuttle flight to the airport.

The helicopter was a Russian-made Mi-8
The helicopter was operated by Paramount Airlines, and owned by a Nigerian businessman, according to an airline maintenance officer quoted by the AFP.
The officer said that it caught fire as it was coming in to land at Lungi airport at about 2030 on Sunday.
"There was an explosion on board the helicopter before it landed," said Donald Bull, general manager of the Sierra Leone Airport Authority.
The Russian-made Mi-8 helicopter was consumed by the flames before airport fire crews could reach it.
"From what we hear, most of the victims were burnt beyond recognition," said Chernor Ojuku Sesay of the Sierra Leone Football Association.
The co-pilot has survived, but was reported to be in critical condition.

Credit: BBC.
Photo: Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe.