REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY -- Mexico’s top transportation official says evidence so far points to a weather-related accident as the cause of a helicopter crash Friday that killed Interior Minister Francisco Blake Mora and seven others.
Dionisio Perez-Jacome, the secretary of communications and transportation, told reporters Saturday that the wreckage showed no signs of an explosion or fire and that it appeared the pilot was trying to get around thick, low-lying clouds when the Eurocopter Super Puma went down just outside Mexico City on the way to the city of Cuernavaca.
Transportation officials, displaying photographs and radar images, said the helicopter deviated from the normal flight path to Cuernavaca, which sits south of the capital. Perez-Jacome said it was “probable” that the pilot altered course and descended to find a route with better visibility.
He said the pattern of debris, scattered in a linear fashion on a sloping field, suggested the aircraft was flying straight and level when it crashed. Perez-Jacome said there was “no indication" so far to suggest that the crash was anything but accidental. But he said the investigation would continue with the help of experts from the United States and France.
It remains to be seen whether the preliminary conclusions will persuade ordinary Mexicans that the incident did not involve foul play.
Blake is the second interior minister -- Mexico’s most powerful official after the president -- to die in an air crash in just over three years. Juan Camilo Mourino was killed Nov. 4, 2008, when the Learjet 45 carrying him plunged into the ground in a busy part of Mexico City.
That crash was officially attributed to turbulence caused by a large jet flying in front of the doomed craft, but many people suspect an assassination.
Blake, 45, was a frequent spokesman for the controversial anti-crime strategy of President Felipe Calderon, who declared war on cartels after taking office five years ago.
This afternoon, Calderon presided over a state funeral for all eight victims of the latest crash.
“With sadness and deep sorrow we bid farewell to eight countrymen, to eight exemplary public servants, who always gave the best of themselves for Mexico and for Mexicans,” Calderon said.
-- Ken Ellingwood
Photo: Mexico's President Felipe Calderon, second from left, and his wife, Margarita Zavala, stand next to the coffin of Mexico's interior minister, Francisco Blake Mora, during his funeral service at the Campo de Marte military field in Mexico City on Saturday. Credit: Eduardo Verdugo / Associated Press