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Sat, Sep 24, 2005

Mexico Update No Survivors In Mexican Police Copter Crash

"They All Died In The Line Of Duty"

The Mexican government helicopter previously reported missing by Aero-News has been found. It crashed west of Mexico City, striking a piney mountainside at 11,200 feet in what appears to have been controlled flight. There was a postcrash fire.

All nine aboard the aircraft died, including Public Safety Secretary Ramon Martin Huerta, Federal Preventive Police Commissioner Tomas Valencia, other officials, and the two-man flight crew.

The helicopter was not an Mi-17 as Aero-News speculated, it was a Bell 412.

The aircraft was taking the VIPs to La Palma maximum-security prison for a public ceremony swearing in new prison guards. The ceremony was symbolic of the administration's intent to crack down on drug-fueled crime, even if they have to build prisons and hire guards to contain all the criminals. The ceremony was delayed pending the appointment of new departmental secretary.

Mexican authorities have dismissed suggestions of sabotage. Jose Antonio Bernal, one of the officials aboard the helicopter, had been threatened by drug gang leader Osiel Cardenas, who is incarcerated in La Palma.

Most of the other officials including Huerta and Valencia are closely associated with Mexico's crackdown on narcotics traffickers, and the Cardenas/drug angle fed much speculation in the Mexican press.

But Presidential spokesman Ruben Aguilar told the press late Thursday that all signs pointed to an accident, although information is only preliminary at this time. "[W]e must wait for the results of the investigation." In Mexico, civil air accidents are investigated by the Communications and Transportation Department.

Weather is more likely to be implicated. Mario Martinez, flying a chase helicopter, last saw the VIP copter enter a cloud bank.

President Vicente Fox spoke to the public on television Wednesday.
"They all died in the line of duty." On Thursday, he quickly appointed replacements for the senior officials: the new Public Safety Secretary is Rafael Rios, who has had a long career in law enforcement and intelligence, and Arturo Jimenez is the new the Federal Police Commander.

For Mexican law enforcement authorities, it was business as usual in a time of mourning. In a dramatic raid Wednesday, Federal Agency of Investigation agents (one of the units of the Public Safety Department) freed the coach of the popular Cruz Azul soccer team, Ruben Omar Romano, arresting his captors. Criminals had held Romano for $5 million
(US) ransom since July.

Cruz Azul is atop the standings (which may speak to their respect for their coach, or perhaps for his superfluity). Captive or no, Romano knew all about it. The kidnappers allowed Romano to watch his team's televised games.



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