A government helicopter, surveying damage from an earthquake that killed no one, crashed in southern Mexico on Friday evening and killed at least 13 men, women and children, and injured more than a dozen.
The accident horrified and angered people in Mexico, which had seemed to escape the worst after a 7.2-magnitude earthquake hit the state of Oaxaca earlier in the day. Unlike last year's deadly quake near Mexico City, this temblor caused little more than power outages and structural damage in the town of Santiago Jamiltepec, near the southern coast.
The governor of Oaxaca and Mexico's new interior secretary had been assessing the damage from the air. The crash occurred as the helicopter was preparing to land in a field in the town after dark, the Associated Press reported.
The quake and an aftershock had caused many residents to sleep outside that night, according to the AP. Dozens had gathered in the field, possibly waiting for the helicopter and the government officials to land.
The pilot then lost control.
“It slid, like it skidded, and it hit some vehicles that were parked alongside the area,” said Jorge Morales, who was inside the helicopter, according to the AP.
The Blackhawk ended up on its side, plastic chairs strewn around the field and two vans crushed beneath thousands of pounds of machinery.
(Patricia Castellanos/AFP/Getty Images)
The mayor of Santiago Jamiltepec, Efrain de la Cruz, was on the phone with CNN when he got word of the crash. The network had been showing clips of the city from earlier in the day. A couple kissed in the street, shaken but okay.
Then the mayor's anguished voice, crying in Spanish over the footage: “A helicopter is down! A helicopter is down! ... This can't be possible, oh my God.”
Five women, four men and three children died beneath the helicopter, the AP reported. Another child died at a hospital. By Sunday, another 16 had been reported hurt in the crash.
The governor, interior secretary and everyone else on board the helicopter survived with no serious injury.
The government now faces angry questions about why such a landing was even attempted in the dark. For example, Layda Sansores, a senator for a different Mexican state, called the flight an unforgivable “act of stupidity.”