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Last Updated: Monday, 4 June 2007, 09:45 GMT 10:45 UK
Sierra Leone air crash kills 19
Paramount Airlines helicopter (photo taken by BBC News website reader Jeremie Munyabarame)
The helicopter shuttle to the airport takes seven minutes
A helicopter ferrying passengers to Freetown airport in Sierra Leone has crashed, killing 19 people, including Togo's Sports Minister Richard Attipoe.

The passengers were returning from watching Togo beat Sierra Leone 1-0 in an African Nations Cup qualifier.

One of the two Ukrainian 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 Togolese passengers had chartered the helicopter for the seven-minute flight from the city to the airport.

But none of the national football team was on board; they were waiting in Freetown for the next shuttle flight to the airport.

Map of Sierra Leone

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.

The Togo players and officials of the team were the next group due to be ferried by the helicopter.

Joseph Muller, one of the journalists within the Hawks' travelling party, said: "We are shocked at the death of our colleagues, it's unbelievable.

Those who died included staff members of both the Togolose Sports Ministry and the Togo Football Federation as well as female journalist Olive Menzah.

Previous safety concerns over the aircrafts

Timeline: Sierra Leone
19 Dec 06 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Sierra Leone
16 May 07 |  Country profiles

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