MEXICO CITY — After a powerful earthquake struck Mexico Friday afternoon, survivors near the quake’s epicenter gathered in a field, planning to spend the night sleeping under the stars or in vehicles instead of in damaged homes vulnerable to aftershocks.
And then, a second crisis hit. This time, it fell from the sky.
A military helicopter carrying officials assessing quake damage was about to land nearby when the pilot lost control. A few seconds later, it crashed to the earth — directly onto several vehicles packed with survivors.
Thirteen people on the ground died and 15 people were injured, according to the state prosecutor’s office in Oaxaca, where the crash took place. The dead included at least three children.
Interior Secretary Alfonso Navarrete, Oaxaca Gov. Alejandro Murat and everyone else aboard the helicopter survived with only minor injuries, officials said.
Navarrete told a local journalist that the pilot of the Blackhawk helicopter lost control about 100 feet above the ground as it was preparing to land in the city of Jamiltepec, about 20 miles from the earthquake’s epicenter.
“It is unfortunate that this happened,” he told Televisa news Friday night. He added that it was fortunate that “there was no greater loss of human lives.”
Mexicans reacted angrily to the crash, with some questioning why a helicopter would try to land in a darkened field.
“In Oaxaca, a helicopter should not fly at night,” tweeted Mexican Sen. Layda Sansores.
She called the accident “an act of stupidity, of failed leadership and unforgivable irresponsibility.”
The accident was another embarrassment for Navarrete. Earlier this month, an intelligence agent from an agency overseen by the Interior Department was caught tailing an opposition presidential candidate.
Navarrete and Murat were evaluating damage from the earthquake before their helicopter crashed.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the 7.2 magnitude quake struck near the town of Pinotepa in Oaxaca state about 5:30 p.m. Friday. A magnitude 5.9 aftershock also centered in Oaxaca struck about an hour later, and was followed by a series of aftershocks throughout the night.
While some homes and businesses near the quake’s epicenter were damaged, there were no reports of deaths, officials said. About 200 miles away in Mexico City, where hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets for safety after an earthquake early warning system alarm bell rang out, only minor damage was reported.
Many Mexicans are still traumatized from twin earthquakes that struck days apart in September, killing more than 400 people across south and central Mexico.