Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf declared Tuesday a national day of mourning following the death Monday of Guinea’s army chief of staff Lt General Souleymane Kelefa Diallo and 10 others who were killed in a plane crash near Monrovia.
The Guinean delegation was to observe Monday’s Liberia Armed Forces Day. Information Minister Lewis Brown said a Liberian delegation headed by Defense Minister Brownie Samukai will accompany the bodies to Guinea Tuesday.
Brown said the cause of the crash is still under investigation, but it appears the plane was approaching Roberts International Airport in bad weather.
“What we know is that, at about 07:09 GMT, the air control tower at the Roberts International Airport made contact with an incoming flight from Conakry, Guinea on which was the Chief of Staff as head of a delegation to attend the 56th celebration of Liberia’s Armed Forces Day. The pilot confirmed that he had the runway within his sight. A few minutes thereafter, the air control tried to make contact with the pilot, but there was no response, and so we have now 11 bodies, including that of former chief of staff Lt. General Diallo,” he said.
Brown said rescue teams made a timely response, although some residents near the crash site put the respond time at between 50 minutes and one hour.
“The crash site is in a palm area, about five kilometers south of the airport. The response was, we believe, very adequate and very effective and efficient. But, we didn’t have much chance because of the explosion that followed the crash,” he said.
He said the black box of the CASA Aircraft (CN35) has been recovered along with the digital voice recorder, and that authorities were in the process of sending it abroad, presumably Canada, to analyze it.
Lewis said what appeared to be a wing of the plane could be seen hanging from a tree, raising concerns the plane might have made a very low approach. He said the early morning visibility was poor.
“As you know, our condition at this time of the year is very foggy in the morning. We are told that we had about nine kilometers of visibility,” he said.
“Additionally, representation has been made through the Guinean Embassy, near our capital, expressing the deepest condolences of the government and people of Liberia. And, the president has called on all Liberians, including leaders of religious communities to offer prayers for the peaceful repose of the chief of staff and other senior officials of the Guinean military who died in this unfortunate crash,” Lewis added.