SANTIAGO JAMILTEPEC, Mexico — (UPDATE – 7:52 a.m., February 18, 2018) At least 13 people on the ground, including three children, were killed when a Mexican military helicopter carrying top officials surveying damage from an earthquake crashed in a small town in the southern state of Oaxaca, authorities said on Saturday.
The helicopter, which was carrying Mexico’s interior minister and the state governor, crashed on top of two vans in an open field while trying to land at night in Santiago Jamiltepec after a tour of damage from Friday’s powerful quake.
The senior officials survived but 12 people at the scene were killed and another died later in a hospital, Oaxaca’s attorney general’s office said in a statement. Another 15 people were injured.
Luis Cabrera, a civil protection official at the scene, said authorities were still investigating the cause of the crash.
The 7.2 magnitude quake knocked out electricity in Santiago Jamiltepec, about 28 miles (45 km) from the tremor’s epicenter, leaving the town in darkness Friday night.
A journalist on board the flight told local TV that the helicopter had flown in over a clearing next to homes, raising a huge dust cloud before it crash landed.
At a home near the accident site, family members gathered to mourn their loved ones after officials returned their bodies. Many lashed out in anger at authorities.
“The governor was supposedly coming to help, but what was the help, the aid, we received? This was the aid,” said Eduardo Juarez, a relative of one victim.
Mexico’s defense minister, General Salvador Cienfuegos, arrived at the scene on Saturday and spoke with locals, offering apologies and taking responsibility for the accident.
“We will take care of what we have to do and we will do everything in our power to try to remedy this misfortune,” Cienfuegos told reporters.
He blamed the late hour and the heavy dust for “disorienting” the pilot, but he said he did not think there had been any “recklessness” by the helicopters’ crew.
The earthquake left nearly a million homes and businesses without power in Mexico City and the south and damaged at least 50 homes in Oaxaca.
The state, along with Mexico City, is still reeling from earthquakes in September that killed at least 471 people and caused widespread damage.