Sierra Leone Airports Authority
In the spirit of good corporate governance practice of accountability and full public disclosures and as a reaction to vilifying press reports in both the print and electronic media, Management is compelled to explain the circumstances that unfolded at the Freetown International Airport, Lungi relating to the unauthorized landing of Beech aircraft200 on Sunday 13th July, 2008 containing 703.5kg cocaine.
As an organization, we are appalled by this development and pledge to work with government to establish the facts surrounding this unfortunate event. In that spirit and to fill the void created by our initial silence to facilitate an unbiased investigation into the matter, we hereby provide the following preliminary information.
At about 0205 on 13th July, 2008, the controller on duty heard a strange voice on the Control tower’s FM 118.1. With the persistence of this call, the controller, as per procedure, requested the call sign of the station calling Freetown and again, there was no response. It was at this point that he contacted the Head of Operations, at 0220 and who upon weighing the circumstances directed that the flight be refused landing clearance.
At 0228, the Controller next contacted the General Manager and comprehensively briefed him on the circumstances surrounding the above aircraft. On his part, the General Manager took immediate steps to brief the Minister of Transport and Aviation while the controller was still holding on the line on instructions. While this conversation was going on between the Minister and the General Manager, the flight was descending over the airport for the first time and continued to descend lower and lower.
At 0250, the security apparatus were alerted because it was evidently getting clear that the aircraft was intending to do a forceful landing with or without clearance. The fire vehicles were also alerted to reposition themselves for a possible barricade of the aircraft after landing.
At 0252 the General Manager after discussing with the Minister and having come to a consensus with the Head of Operations directed that in the interest of technicalities, the aircraft be allowed to land and the Head of Operations then directed that the aircraft be parked on the Western part of the apron but to be barricaded by the fire vehicles and alert the Security forces to prevent an escape of the flights occupants.
At 0305 the aircraft landed just as the Control Tower was about to request Standby room to provide lighting facilities. It is Important to note that up to its landing time the aircraft never talked to Control Tower or received any clearance to do so. The pilot landed the aircraft in the dark. This is possible with modern aircraft that are equipped with GPS and other sophisticated navigation equipment that could facilitate "blind landing".
Immediately after landing, the fire vehicles were instructed to proceed to the aircraft and barricade it as the Head of Operations (HOPS) had advised. The Security was also at this point directed to proceed to the aircraft.
At 0315, the HOPS and Chief Security Officer (CSO) joined the airport team at the incident site and by 0400 Security reinforcement was received at the site.
At 0411, the Minister called the control tower on a cell phone requesting news on the aircraft and its particulars. He was accordingly furnished with the requested information.
As could be seen from the above, it is clear and unambiguous that in spite of the best efforts of the Airports Management and its functionaries, the fact that we do not carry arms seriously constrained all attempts to either abort the landing or prevent the suspects from escaping.
It should be noted that the Airports Authority has always being in the vanguard of the campaign against drug trafficking and have in the past intercepted several consignments of various types of drug s and handed them over to the Police for necessary actions. We remain committed to that.
Finally, we wish to inform the public that Mr. Samuel Sesay, our personnel intercepted at the Sierra Leone – Guinea Border was on an officially approved exchange programme between the Airports of Guinea and Sierra Leone. The choice of the road route was because the only available flight to Conakry was not scheduled on that fateful day. He therefore had to travel by road to participate in the programme as scheduled on Monday. As we write this release, the Guinean counterparts are already at the airport for the same exchange programme.
Issued By Management
July 15th 2008