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Page last updated at 13:51 GMT, Friday, 30 May 2008 14:51 UK

Crash kills Chile's police chief

Police cordon off the site of the incident in Panama City
The crash left a gaping hole in the building

Chile's national police chief has been killed along with 10 other people in a helicopter crash while visiting Panama City for a conference.

Gen Jose Alejandro Bernales, three Chilean police officials, two spouses and five Panamanians all died when the aircraft hit a warehouse.

A 12th person aboard the helicopter survived the crash.

Chile decreed three days of national mourning and President Michelle Bachelet cut short a regional visit.

The cause of the crash is not yet known.

Eyewitnesses told local media that the helicopter had pitched wildly before plunging and starting a fire in the building it hit.

'Great police director'

The Chilean dead were named as Gen Bernales and his wife Teresa Bianchini, police commander Oscar Tapia and his wife Carolina Reyes, police commander Ricardo Orozco and police Capt Mauricio Fuenzalida.

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Eyewitnesses told local media that the helicopter had pitched wildly before plunging into the buiding.

Panamanian Interior Minister Daniel Delgado confirmed that five Panamanians had also died in the crash.

According to one report, there were three crew members aboard the helicopter.

The sole survivor was a Panamanian policeman, who was in hospital in a stable condition, Mr Delgado added.

Gen Bernales, who had served for nearly 40 years in the police, was in Panama to attend an anti-terrorism conference.

Gen Eduardo Gordon has been appointed to replace him.

On hearing of the accident, President Bachelet rushed back to the Chilean capital Santiago from the north of the country.

She described Gen Bernales, chief of police since 2005, as a "great, great police director, an important support for the government on order and security matters".


SEE ALSO
Chile leader daughter recovering
11 Jun 07 |  Americas
Country profile: Chile
28 Feb 08 |  Country profiles

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