Helicopter crashes in Sierra Leone, killing 20

Monday, June 4, 2007

Map of Sierra Leone.

A passenger helicopter crashed in Sierra Leone on Sunday, killing at least 20 people, witnesses say.

The helicopter, operated by Paramount Airlines of Sierra Leone, was transporting clients for a charter flight from Freetown to Lungi International Airport.

There is no official word on the identity of all the victims, however it has been reported that the 19 passengers had been returning from a football match that had taken place earlier in the day between Togo and Sierra Leone at an African Nations Cup qualifying game.

One of the dead has been identified as Togo's Minister of Sport, Richard Attipoe. Other passengers were associated with the Togo Sports Ministry and the Togo Football Federation. In addition, journalist Olive Menzah has been identified as one of the victims.

Paramount operates a helicopter ferry service for a short flight between Freetown and Lungi airport. The airport can only be accessed by helicopter or ferry boat.

An airline maintenance officer told AFP news agency that the helicopter caught fire and burst into flames as it was landing. The pilot is reported dead, while the co-pilot is listed in critical condition. Both had jumped from the helicopter moments before it crashed.

The helicopter had apparently been grounded by the Sierra Leone government some months ago for safety violations, but was then put back into service, according to the BBC.