The Dallas Morning News
Mexico copter crash kills 14
Helicopter crashes into survivors; official blames ‘act of stupidity’
A military helicopter carrying officials assessing earthquake damage crashed as it was attempting to land in southern Mexico, killing 14 on the ground.
MEXICO CITY — After a powerful earthquake struck Mexico on Friday, frightened survivors near the epicenter gathered in a field, opting to spend the night sleeping under the stars or in vehicles instead of in damaged homes vulnerable to aftershocks.
And then a second unexpected crisis hit. This time, it fell from the sky.
A military helicopter carrying top officials assessing quake damage was preparing to land nearby Friday night when the pilot lost control. A few seconds later, the helicopter crashed to the earth — directly onto several vehicles packed with earthquake survivors.
Fourteen people on the ground were killed, and at least 21 people were injured, according to the state prosecutor’s office in Oaxaca state, where the crash happened. The dead included at least three children.
Interior Secretary Alfonso Navarrete, Oaxaca Gov. Alejandro Murat and everybody else aboard the helicopter survived with only minor injuries, officials said.
Navarrete told a local journalist that the pilot of the Blackhawk helicopter lost control about 100 feet above the ground while preparing to land in the town of Jamiltepec, about 20 miles from the earthquake’s epicenter.
On Saturday, the secretary of national defense, Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, arrived in Jamiltepec and apologized to residents, saying that his agency “assumes total responsibility for what happened here.”
“This misfortune originated from our interest in helping the community here,” he said, adding that his agency would help reconstruct homes and provide other assistance.
Mexicans reacted angrily to the crash, with some questioning why a helicopter would try to land in a dark field.
“In Oaxaca, a helicopter should not fly at night,” tweeted Mexican Sen. Layda Sansores, who belongs to the leftleaning Morena party. She called the accident “an act of stupidity, of failed leadership and unforgivable irresponsibility.”
The accident was another embarrassment for Navarrete, who was chosen to head the Interior Department last month by President Enrique Peña Nieto. Earlier this month, an intelligence agent from an agency overseen by Navarrete was caught tailing a presidential candidate running against Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party.
Navarrete and Murat were evaluating damage from the earthquake before their helicopter crashed.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the magnitude-7.2 quake struck near the town of Pinotepa in Oaxaca state about 5:30 p.m. Friday. A magnitude-5.9 aftershock, also centered in Oaxaca, struck about an hour later and was followed by a series of smaller aftershocks.
While some homes and businesses near the quake’s epicenter were damaged, there were no reports of deaths, officials said. About 200 miles away in Mexico City, where an early warning system sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing into the streets for safety, only minor damage was reported.