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Sierra Leone helicopter crash kills 21


Posted: Jun 04, 2007 at 1017 hrs IST

Togo's sports minister and 20 other people were killed when a privately-owned shuttle helicopter they were flying in crashed at Sierra Leone's Lungi international airport, sporting and airport officials said on Monday.

Sports Minister Atipe Kwako was among the 18 Togolese nationals on board the Paramount Airlines helicopter which caught fire while descending in preparation for landing at Lungi and crashed on the tarmac around 8.30 pm on Sunday.

One of three Russian crew members survived the crash, and was said to be in critical condition.

"It was shocking to see the helicopter disintegrating," senior airport maintenance officer Alfred Yelinkeh said.

The Paramount Airlines helicopter, owned by a Nigerian businessman, operates a seven-minutes shuttle service between the Sierra Leonean capital Freetown and the airport.

Sierra Leone Football Association public relations officer Chernor Ojuku Sesay said 18 Togolese officials and supporters died in the crash.

The rest of the victims were crew members.

"From what we hear, most of the victims were burnt beyond recognition," Sesay said in Freetown.

The victims were using the helicopter to return to the airport after attending the match in which the Togo national football team beat Sierra Leone 1-0 in an African cup of Nations elimination match.

The team was in Freetown awaiting the next shuttle when the accident took place.

The team and officials had chartered a jet and were due to fly back home last evening.

Firefighters, police and the army only succeeded in extinguished the blazing aircraft several hours after it crashed, airport workers said.

"We are deeply moved over this development. We are also grieved by this tragic loss," said Nahim Khadi, president of the Sierra Leone Football Association.

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