Santiago Jamiltepec, Mexico | AFP | Thirteen people were killed in southern Mexico when a minister’s helicopter crash-landed on its way to the epicenter of a powerful earthquake that rattled the region, officials said Saturday.
The 7.2 magnitude quake caused only material damage when it struck late Friday, but it triggered a tragedy in the town of Santiago Jamiltepec in Oaxaca state, where the chopper landed on its side, crushing a van.
Five women, four men, and three children were killed on the spot, while another person died in hospital, the Oaxaca prosecutor’s office said.
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On board the UH-60 Black Hawk military helicopter were Interior Minister Alfonso Navarrete and Oaxaca state Governor Alejandro Murat, who were unharmed.
Dozens of people turned out Saturday to pay their respects to the dead, carrying candles and white flowers, as trumpets and saxophones played in tribute.
Maria Margarita Sanchez lost her son, Lorenzo Zarate, in the accident.
“I can’t describe my sadness,” the 63-year-old told AFP, covering her face with a scarf.
Navarrete told the Televisa TV network that the helicopter pilot lost control of the aircraft just as it was coming in to land.
A local resident who declined to give his name said many locals had been planning to spend the night outside — at the site where the chopper crashed — for fear of being trapped in their homes in case of aftershocks.
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The officials had been heading to survey damage near the epicenter of the quake, located 37 kilometers (22 miles) from the southwestern town of Pinotepa de Don Luis, according to the US Geological Survey.
The earthquake damaged about 50 homes in Santiago Jamiltepec, as well as the town hall and church, but no one was killed, the interior ministry said.
Oaxaca state authorities opened shelters for those affected, and nearly 6,000 soldiers and federal police were deployed to help with the emergency response.