Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Sierra Leone Grounds All Helicopters Until Further Notice

Sierra Leone President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah has grounded all commercial helicopters and suspended the country's transport minister after a Russian-made Mi-8 helicopter caught fire on its descent for landing Sunday night, killing 22 people in the West African country's capital of Freetown.

The helicopter was taking a group of soccer fans from the small West African country of Togo -- as well as the Togolese Minister for Youth and Sports Richard Attipoe -- to the Lungi International Airport when it went down.

Kabbah declared three days of mourning and promptly grounded all commercial helicopters including those commuters use to get across a bay to Freetown. The only other alternative is by sea ferry.

No potential lift date for the suspension has been announced. The Togonese government dispatched a six-person delegate to assist with the investigation.

Sierra Leone's Information Minister Septimus Kaikai vowed his government will "take a serious look at these commercial helicopter companies to make sure that the public is given adequate safety."

According to the Associated Press, several Togolese called for an investigation after a Togolese soccer official in Lome, the capital of Togo, claimed to have received a text message from someone aboard the flight saying they had received death threats from other soccer fans in Freetown.

Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) President Sepp Blatter said he was "deeply saddened" by the tragedies.

"Our pain at these losses is all the greater given that they both occurred only a few days after we had come together for the 57th FIFA Congress in Zurich," he said.

Link to .:: Aero-News Network: The Aviation and Aerospace World's Daily/Real-Time News and Information Service ::.