FREETOWN, Sierra Leone – A helicopter ferrying passengers to Sierra Leone's main airport crashed late Sunday, bursting into flames and killing at least 20 people, local radio stations and a witness at the airport official reported.
One station, Kalleone FM, said 22 people died, including a pilot who jumped from the helicopter as it crashed at the airport. A witness at the airport, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the media, confirmed the crash and said at least 20 were killed, including Togolese soccer fans who had watched their team beat Sierra Leone 1-0 in an African Nations Cup qualifying match earlier Sunday.
The witness said the helicopter apparently developed a problem in the air and its two pilots both jumped out — one survived and was hospitalized. She said the helicopter burst into flames upon crashing, and was destroyed before airport firefighters could put out the flames.
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.