Twenty-two people were killed
when a helicopter ferrying a group of Togolese soccer fans exploded into flames
near the Sierra Leone airport, officials said Monday.
The government of Togo has sent a six-person delegation to help with the
investigation into Monday's crash, after a majority of the dead were identified
as Togolese soccer fans who had come to cheer their team's 1-0 victory over
Sierra Leone at an African Cup of Nations qualifying match on Sunday.
The charred remains have been transported to the state mortuary, where
autopsies will be conducted once a pathologist from Togo's government arrives,
said Sierra Leone's State Pathologist Owiss Kamara.
News of the accident sent the tiny West African country of Togo into
mourning. Togolese radio stations broadcast solemn funeral songs every 30
minutes, and President Faure Gnassingbe called for flags to fly at half-mast.
But the grief was mixed with anger, and many Togolese called for an
investigation into the crash after a Togolese soccer official in Lome reported
receiving an SMS message from one of the crash victims saying he and other fans
had been threatened in Freetown.
Winnie Dogbatse, president of a Togo soccer club, told a Lome radio station
that the text message sent before the man boarded the helicopter described
Sierra Leoneans, angry at having lost the game, allegedly made death threats
against the Togolese soccer fans.
Helicopters and a sea ferry are the only ways to get to the airport, located
across a bay from the capital, Freetown, which is on the Atlantic Ocean.
In 2001, a U.N. helicopter traveling from U.N. headquarters in Sierra Leone
to the airport crashed into the bay, killing all seven aboard. The U.N. said at
the time a mechanical problem appeared to have been the cause.