Military helicopter on earthquake mission crashes in Mexico, kills 14 on ground

The helicopter, which was carrying Mexico’s interior minister and the state governor, crashed on top of vans in an open field while trying to land at night

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 February, 2018, 3:15am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 February, 2018, 8:27pm

After a powerful earthquake struck Mexico on Friday, frightened survivors near the epicentre 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 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 died and least 21 people were injured, according to the state prosecutor’s office in Oaxaca, where the crash happened.

The dead include at least three children.

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 said, 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.

The officials had been heading to survey damage near the epicentre of the quake, located 37 kilometres (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.

The earthquake came less than six months after two quakes killed hundreds of people in the country.

On September 7, an 8.2-magnitude earthquake shook the nation and killed 96 people, mostly in the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas.

Then on September 19 – the 32nd anniversary of a 1985 quake that killed 10,000 – a 7.1-magnitude quake hit the country, leaving 369 people dead.

Friday’s quake triggered Mexico City’s alarm system and caused buildings to sway in the capital. It was also felt in the states of Guerrero, Puebla and Michoacan.

Mexico sits at a spot where five tectonic plates come together, making it particularly vulnerable to earthquakes.

Tribune News Service, Agence France-Presse