MEXICO CITY – A military helicopter carrying officials assessing damage from a powerful earthquake crashed on Friday in southern Mexico, killing 13 people and injuring 16, all of them on the ground.
The 7.2-magnitude quake’s epicentre was in Oaxaca but it shook buildings in Mexico City, 350km (217 miles) away, forcing people to flee buildings and office towers in the country’s capital.
No deaths have been reported in the earthquake itself.
The Defense Department said the Blackhawk helicopter suffered the mishap when it was preparing to land on a vacant lot in the city of Jamiltepec, about 30kmfrom the area of Pinotepa Nacional.
The aircraft carrying the interior minister and Oaxaca’s governor crashed, killing over a dozen people on the ground.
In a communiqué issued on Saturday, the Oaxaca state prosecutor’s office confirmed 13 deaths – 5 women, 4 men, 2 girls and 1 child – as well as injuries to 15 people.
Interior Minister Alfonso Navarete told TV network Televisa that he and Oaxaca Governor Alejandro Murat were not seriously harmed in the accident that happened as the helicopter was attempting to land.
13 muertos es el saldo oficial del accidente ocurrido la noche de ayer, al desplomarse el #helicóptero en donde viajaba @alejandromurat y @navarreteprida, se dirigían a evaluar daños por #Sismo https://t.co/tfDrqanq8u #Jamiltepec #PinotepaNacional #Oaxaca #FuerzaMexico pic.twitter.com/UTxvnhdYrm
— CuartaPlana Oaxaca (@CuartaPlana) February 17, 2018
The ministry issued a statement saying two people on the ground were killed when the helicopter came down.
TV images showed the downed chopper lying on its side surrounded by several cars.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto tweeted: “Unfortunately, several people on the ground lost their lives and others were injured. My condolences to your relatives and my desire to promptly recover the injured.”
El Secretario @navarreteprida, el Gobernador @alejandromurat y la tripulación se encuentran bien. Lamentablemente, varias personas en tierra perdieron la vida y otras resultaron heridas. Mis condolencias para sus familiares y mis deseos de pronta recuperación a los lesionados.
— Enrique Peña Nieto (@EPN) February 17, 2018
The US Geological Survey originally put the magnitude of Friday’s quake at 7.5 but later lowered it to 7.2. It said the epicenter was 53km northeast of Pinotepa in southern Oaxaca state and had a depth of 24km.
After the tremor, thousands of people were seen fleeing buildings in Mexico City as the ground shook. Some were crying, while others hugged each other on the streets of the capital. Traffic stopped for a few minutes.
The authorities activated earthquake alert systems in four states, and Mexico City. They urged residents to stay outdoors.
Last September, two devastating earthquakes in Mexico killed hundreds of people.
Mexico is one of the most seismically active regions in the world, sitting on top of three of the Earth’s largest tectonic plates – the North American, Cocos and Pacific plates.