February 11, 2013, like its predecessors years past, dawned a sunny day in its usual celebratory style, streets clear of normal human and vehicular traffic, as security units and band of select students from the Monrovia school system got prepared for a military march.
Other citizens weary of the long weekend retired to their FM radio and television sets to see the day pass on. But all turned sour, creating widespread damp atmosphere in the air when it was announced that a Guinean delegation seconded to the Armed Forces Day anniversary program in Monrovia died in a plane crash near the Roberts International Airport. The Analyst reports
By 7:00am yesterday, the Barclay Training Center was already swarmed by Liberian and foreign dignitaries, joint security units, marching bands, students and journalists. It was the Armed Forces of Liberia's 156th anniversary ceremonies. As time tilts towards the commencement of the official ceremonies, some of the attendees were seen forming small groups here and there, and heads were moving towards each other. Rumors had filtered into the crowds about some plane crash near the country's main airport with scanty details about what had actually happened. Security personnel believed to have had some details whispered to panicking inquirers that the accident involved a delegation of Guinean military officers who were on their way to the occasion. They could not say what was fatalities really were.
The Armed Forces Day ceremonies nonetheless commenced in earnest when all the guests were seated and President Sirleaf and her entourage ushered into the hall.
Following the usual military performances by personnel of the AFL, Ambassador George W. Wallace delivered the keynote address and he was subsequently honored along with three distinct African militants by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
"Distinguish guests, fellow Liberians, kindly remain standing with me, as we observe a moment of silence for our Guinean brothers who lost their lives in a plane crash while en route to this ceremony."
Those introductory words of President Sirleaf electrified her audience that included other foreign dignitaries amongst them the American Ambassador to Liberia, Deborac Malac. The colorful event turned mournful as the President asked for a moment of silence, adding: "Let me also declare tomorrow, Tuesday, a national working holiday in Liberia for the regrettable and irreparable lost the death as a result of the plane crash has caused this sub-region."
The Guinean military officials who met their fateful day while en route to Liberia's Armed Forces Day Anniversary, when the plane in which they were travelling crashed in Charlesville, Margibi County, about three miles away from Roberts International Airport (RIA).
The actual cause of the plane crash is yet unknown, as Liberia Aviation Authority (LAA) is said to be investigating the incident involving a CASA Aircraft (CN-235) with registration 3X-GGG approximately 3 miles south of the aerodrome.
Officials say the flight originated from Conakry, the Republic of Guinea. At 0709 GMT Air Traffic Control cleared the flight to land at RIA. That was the last known contact with the crew.
A search and rescue team has been dispatched to the scene. The team comprises of RIA Rescue and Firefighting Department, UNMIL, authorities of the Liberia Civil Aviation Authority, the Firestone PPD Rescue and Firefighting Team, Firestone Medical Team and the Red Cross.
The Liberian government has since conveyed an official condolence to the government and people of that neighboring West African-Mano River Union (MRU) nation.
As a manifestation of their heartfelt commiseration with the Guinean counterparts, the Ministry of National Defense has announced a cancellation of the official ball organized in commemoration of the 156th Armed Forces Day.
Officials say the remains the fallen Guinean military personnel have been deposited at the Samuel Stryker Funeral home.
According to the officials, this is the first plane crash in Monrovia since the administration of President Sirleaf and the second in 14 years.
Sirleaf Proclamation of Day of Mourning
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf immediately issued a proclamation declaring the day after the fatal plane crash a National Holiday to be observed throughout Liberia.
"Government of the Republic of Liberia has learned with utter shock and regrets the news of a plane crash near Monrovia, in the early hours of Monday, February 11, 2013, which claimed the lives of the Chief of General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Guinea, General Kelefa Diallo, and nine others comprising Guinean military officers and flight crew, who were on their way to attend the 56th Anniversary Celebrations of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Liberia," the President said in the proclamation.
The statement said it has been the policy of the Government of the Republic of Liberia to adopt such measures as would be appropriate to show solidarity with other friendly nations, adding: "Now, Therefore, I, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia, by virtue of the authority in me vested, and in honor of our gallant and distinguished fallen regional military officers and flight crew, do hereby declare Tuesday, February 12, 2013 as a day of mourning for the colossal loss sustained to be observed as a National Holiday throughout the Republic."
UNMIL Offers Support, Condolences
The United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) offered its condolences and sympathy Government of the Republic of Guinea and the family and friends of the passengers who perished this morning when their aircraft crashed close to the Liberian capital, Monrovia.
The aircraft reportedly crashed while travelling from Guinea to the Liberian capital. The passengers included a number of Guinea's high ranking military officers who were travelling to attend Liberia's National Armed Forces Day celebrations today.
UNMIL has supported the Liberian Authorities with their response and recovery efforts, and is now supporting the conduct of a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding today's incident.