Life never ceases to amaze me.
On Sunday, I went over to my Pan African surrogate parents house to discuss and process my trip to West Africa. I choose them to share my feelings with because I knew they would be able to educate me and help me with all of the emotions I was feeling. Not to mention the fact that if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t even know Isaiah or be an activist.
While I was there, I detailed the entire trip to them from start to finish, including the helicopter ride we had to take from Lungi into Freetown and back when we were leaving.
At the time, Asantewe casually mentioned to me how she was told by a friend never to take the helicopter and to always take the ferry because of possible issues with the mechanics. I didn’t think anything of it because by then I was home safe and sound.
I woke up yesterday morning to peruse the morning headlines only to find out that the same helicopter we took had crashed on Sunday and killed 22 people!
The helicopter was carrying passengers from an African Cup of Nations qualifying match where Togo won 1-0 in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, to the airport.
Richard Attipoe, Togo’s minister of sport, is among the dead. The World Aeronautical Press Agency reports the helicopter "developed mechanical problems and its engines failed" before it crashed. The Ukranian pilots both jumped from the aircraft before it crashed, but only one survived, the agency said.
A river separates the city of Freetown from the airport in Lungi. Aging helicopters and frequently out-of-service ferries and hovercraft have been the only way to avoid a several-hour detour to a land crossing of the Sierra Leone River that separates Lungi Airport from Freetown. President Kabbah had pledged that he would build a bridge to connect the capital to the airport by the end of his term this year – that’s not happening.
Paramount Airlines is owned by a Nigerian businessman and is one of the few carriers operating helicopter flights between the city and the airport. While the air carrier is banned in the European Union, outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair used its services during his recent visit to Sierra Leone while I was there.
President Kabbah has announced that Sierra Leone will be in mourning for three days. Indeed, so will all of us who just traveled back from Sierra Leone on the same helicopter.
Note to Jasmyne: On your next trip, take the five hour ferry instead of the 15-minute copter ride.
Check out my video of our ride from Freetown to Lungi…