Government’s silence over Air crash : Sylvia Blyden writes President Tejan Kabbah

DR. SYLVIA BLYDEN WRITES PRESIDENT AHMAD TEJAN KABBAH ABOUT SLPP GOVERNMENT’S EARDEAFENING SILENCE ON WEDNESDAY’S PLANE CRASH AT THE LUNGI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, FREETOWN

SUNDAY AUGUST 15, 2004

AIRGUINEATHATCRASHED

OPEN LETTER TO MY PRESIDENT,

Your Excellency,

I am writing to you on Sunday 15th August 2004. Your Excellency, I am not
sure if you know that on Wednesday 11th August 2004 at around 2:30pm in the
afternoon, over 70 of your Sierra Leonean citizens almost lost their lives in
a terrible plane crash at the Lungi International Airport involving a Boeing
737 Plane operated by Air Guinea Express.

Your Excellency, Air Guinee Express is owned by a Guinean named Mamadou Sylla
who purchased the airline from The Guinean Government last year 2003. Shortly
after Sylla purchased the plane in the name of his International Company
named GROUPE FUTURELEC, the plane suffered a crash in November 2003 right at
the Lungi Airport. But, this crash of Wednesday August 11th (8-11) was far
more serious.

For the sake of posterity, I am putting down on paper the events since that
day. Very early, on Wednesday 11th August (8-11), we all turned up at the
Lungi International Airport to board the Air Guinee Express Flight 110 from
Freetown to The Gambia. At around 8:30am, we were told that the plane came
from Conakry, Guinea but could not land because of “weather visibility
problems” and had therefore headed back to Conkary.

We waited until 1:25pm when an announcement was made that the plane had come
back from Guinea and would be landing finally. The plane landed and we were
placed on board. Almost immediately after the plane took off and was in mid
air, we noticed that the left wing was on fire and the flames were climbing
up towards the back windows. We then heard a big BOOM! sound and the plane
started to twist up and down in the air until it crashed into some green
plantations, continued at full speed before finally landing in a swamp with
the plane still on fire and the now completely darkened passenger cabin
reeking of the smell of kerosene and jet fuel.

Your Excellency, we were later informed that the BOOM sound was the sound
caused by one of the engines falling off in mid-air. I saw the site where the
engine landed. The distance from the point of impact where the engine hit the
earth from the air and the final resting place of the plane was approximately
600 metres!

Your Excellency, to continue my narration, please be informed that it was now
pandemonium inside the plane with all passengers being terrified and shouting
out for Jesus and Almighty Allah whilst struggling to break open windows and
doors to escape from the fuelled plane which was on fire. All the windows
were covered with mud and leaves and trees and we could not see anything
outside until someone managed to break one of the windows of the emergency
doors and we started to escape helter skelter from the plane. Expecting the
plane to burst into flames at any moment, we ran deep into the forest holding
on to each other. To their credit, the Airports Authority and the Police
started to drive towards the scene of the crash within seconds of the plane
finally landing. Considering the distance they had to drive, they took
several minutes to finally arrive at the swamp and found all the passengers
already escaped from the plane but in a complete state of terror, pandemonium
and emotional distress not to talk of bleeding limbs and other injuries.

Your Excellency, I have just been discharged from the hospital after four
days. I left dozens of Sierra Leoneans still admitted in hospital. Many of
them have spinal, skeletal and other such injuries like internal organ
problems. I am fortunate having suffered only a broken tooth and soft tissue
injury. I give thanks to the Almighty that I can once again sit down in front
of a computer doing what I have been blessed to do. Disseminate Information
worldwide through the Internet for the attention of the International World.

Your Excellency, most disappointingly one of the information I am going to
disseminate is that, my government headed by you, is yet to make any official
statement on the plane crash that had over 70 Sierra Leonean citizens on
board. There were a few Gambians on board including a Gambian UNAMSIL Captain
who was heading to The Gambia for a short break from his UNAMSIL duties. The
Gambian Government of President Yahya Jammeh made adequate arrangements for
the Gambians to receive medical treatment before flying them out to Gambia
yesterday. There were 37 Guineans on board. The Guinean President Lansana
Conteh sent two jets with a high powered delegation within 1 hour of the
crash. One of the Presidential jets came with a top team of medical doctors.

But, Your Excellency, you might be surprised to learn that the Presidential
team from President Lansana Conte only treated Guinean Citizens and then
carted them off to
Guinea. The doctors did not even address us Sierra Leoneans or try to console
us. However, with my respect for you as my President, I was busy consoling my
fellow
passengers that they should rest assured that our own President, Alhaji Tejan
Kabbah will soon send emissaries to us. I kept on assuring them all the way
from the airport to Freetown for over three days until I gave up myself when
I realised that I was just embarassing myself to my fellow passengers with my
assurances that my President will soon be making a statement.

So, 5 days since the crash, up till now, Sunday 15th August 2004, neither the
Office of the President nor your Ministry of Transportation nor any
government functionary has extended any condolence to us in any official
capacity neither have you issued any statement. I am so ashamed and so
disappointed in you.

Meanwhile, Hon. Ernest Koroma together with a full contingent of APC
Parliamentarians and APC Stalwarts turned up at the hospitals to sympathise
with us. Prominent citizens have been turning up at our different hospitals
to sympathise with us. Religious Leaders have been pouring into our hospitals
to pray with us and give thanks to the Almighty for the miracle he performed
in saving our lives.

The new Mayor of Freetown, Winstanley Bankole Johnson was there to see that
we were made comfortable and he held discussions with all the different
doctors. Later, the Mayor sent his wife to come and visit us at the different
hospitals where we were admitted. The Bankole Johnson family came laden with
fruits, sanatogen high energy powder, milk, chocolates and flowers and they
went from room to room consoling us and giving us food.

And from the SLPP and from my President? As they say in Krio, “ONE BIG FAT
YAING” is all what we have heard from your government.

Your Excellency, I must here note that I have several friends in your
government who personally called me up to extend their sympathy to me. But
however, they were doing it on a personal basis to a friend of theirs. I am
just one of 126 passengers on board a plane
that crashed at Lungi Airport. What about the other passengers? What about
the government as a whole? Are they not going to say anything as a government
to their citizens? What about Prince Harding, the SLPP Secretary General and
your Minister of Transport? Is he not going to tell the nation that an
enquiry into the activities of the Civil Aviation Authority is underway? I am
informed that he was on the Ghana Airways plane that had landing problems in
the recent past and he immediately recommended to your Cabinet that the plane
be grounded. Prince Harding was personally affected and he implemented
measures based on his experience. However, what assurances do we now have
that the Air Guinee crash which is a worse incident that the Prince Harding-
GhanaAirways one or the one of November 2003 will not repeat itself? What
measures is your government putting in place to ensure that the Civil
Aviation Authority is thoroughly investigated?

Your Excellency, how can you stay silent at a time like this? I am totally
disappointed in your government. You have let me down. You have let my fellow
passengers down and this is an indication that those who say that your
government is neither in touch with its’ citizenry nor does your government
know what its’ duties are towards your citizens, might be quite right after
all.

Your Excellency, whilst awaiting a reaction from your government, I end this
letter by leaving you in the hands of the Almighty. May God Almighty continue
to guide you to do the right thing for your citizens.

May God Almighty protect us all.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden

 

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