13 dead as helicopter assessing Mexico quake damage plummets

Thirteen people were killed and 16 injured when a military helicopter carrying high-ranking officials to assess the damage from a powerful earthquake crashed in southern Mexico, officials said Saturday.

All the victims were on the ground.

The Oaxaca state prosecutor's office said in a statement that Friday's crash resulted in the deaths of five women, four men and three children at the scene. An injured victim died later at the hospital.

A state government official said the chopper crashed into a group of people who had been spending the night outside after a powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit the area Friday in the early evening. Aftershocks had caused people to flee their homes for fear they would collapse.

The Defense Department said the crash happened as the Blackhawk helicopter was preparing to land on a vacant lot in the city of Jamiltepec, about 19 miles from the area of Pinotepa Nacional.

Mexico's Interior Department said that the helicopter was carrying Secretary Alfonso Navarrete and Oaxaca state Gov. Alejandro Murat, who were evaluating reports of damage from the earthquake. Neither suffered serious injuries.

Earlier reports said the chopper crashed on top of two vans in an open field.

Both Navarrete and the defense department said they regretted the loss of life in Friday's accident.

The same city where the accident occurred also saw significant destruction from the earthquake. About 50 homes were damaged, as well as the town hall and church, according to the Interior Department.

Two people suffered fractures and non-life threatening injuries in Pinotepa Nacional in Santiago Jamiltepec.

The damage was minimal compared with the toll from an 8.2-magnitude quake that struck in the same general area on Sept. 7 and a 7.1 quake on Sept. 19, which killed 471 people and damaged over 180,000 houses in eight states, including Mexico City.

But 5.8 aftershock that struck Friday, about an hour after the 7.2-magnitude quake led some residents of Jamiltepec to decide to spend the night outdoors, a common practice after strong shakes in the balmy region.

The military helicopter apparently flipped and fell on top of the townspeople as it attempted to land.

Navarrete told local media that "as the army helicopter we were travelling in tried to land, the pilot lost control, the helicopter fell and flipped."

Jorge Morales, a local reporter who was aboard the helicopter when it crashed, described harrowing moments as the pilot lost control and the helicopter attempted to touch down in a swirl of dust.

"The moment the helicopter touched down it lost control, it slid-- like it skidded-- and it hit some vehicles that were parked alongside the area that had been defined for the landing," he told a Mexican television news program. "In that moment, you couldn't see anything, nothing else was heard beside the sound that iron makes when it scrapes the earth."

The U.S. Geological Survey originally put the magnitude of Friday's quake at 7.5 but later lowered it to 7.2.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.