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Copter crash in Mexico kills Cabinet minister

Associated Press
Published September 22, 2005

MEXICO CITY - A helicopter carrying the Cabinet minister in charge of Mexico's federal police and eight others crashed in cloud-shrouded mountains outside Mexico City on Wednesday, killing everyone on board, President Vicente Fox said.

The burned wreckage of the Bell helicopter was found in a mountainous, wooded area about 20 miles outside Mexico City several hours after it was reported missing.

The aircraft was carrying Public Safety Secretary Ramon Martin Huerta - a trusted Fox ally - Federal Preventive Police Chief Tomas Valencia, five other passengers and a crew of two.

It had taken off from a military base in Mexico City and was headed to a ceremony at the maximum-security La Palma prison, 35 miles west of Mexico City, when it was crashed in mountains surrounded by dense clouds.

"They all died in the line of duty," Fox said in a televised address, his voice cracking with emotion.

"They are heroes. ... I have lost not just a co-worker, but a close friend, Ramon."

Fox offered no explanation of why the helicopter crashed. But Mario Martinez, a pilot who was following in another helicopter, told local media that Huerta's craft had disappeared into a dense bank of clouds and was lost to view.

Mexican media had speculated that the helicopter's disappearance might be related to Mexico's powerful drug trafficking groups.

The flight was on its way to a swearing-in ceremony for prison guards, the culmination of an effort to purge corrupt officials from a prison holding notorious Mexican drug gang leaders.

The prison was cordoned off earlier this year by federal troops after investigators found evidence that reputed drug lords Osiel Cardenas and Benjamin Arellano Felix had joined forces and were operating their networks from behind bars.

Fox created the Public Safety Department after taking office in 2000, combining federal police forces overseeing prisons, highways and borders - including the Federal Preventive Police, a force that includes soldiers assigned to police work like crowd and riot control.

[Last modified September 22, 2005, 01:04:14]

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