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Chilean official among 11 killed in helicopter crash

  • Story Highlights
  • 11 of 12 people on helicopter were killed, including Chile's national police chief
  • Incident occurred during the afternoon in a commercial zone of Panama City
  • Witnesses said a blade of the rotor hit a three-story building
  • No cause of the crash was immediately identified
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PANAMA CITY, Panama (CNN) -- A helicopter crashed into a building in Panama City on Thursday, killing 11 of the 12 people aboard, including Chile's federal police chief, a Panamanian government official said.

The incident occurred during the afternoon in a commercial zone of the city as the Panamanian helicopter was carrying several Panamanian police officials and six members of a group from Chile. They had been attending a regional forum in the city of Colon, the official said.

Witnesses said a rotor blade hit a three-story building, causing the helicopter to fall in a ball of fire.

Several people on the ground were burned, and the building -- which houses a clothing store -- also caught fire. Video Watch emergency workers at the scene »

It took firefighters hours to control the flames and to keep the blaze from spreading to other buildings.

"The principal problem is the smoke and the toxic gases; that's what makes the work more difficult," said Cecilio Lasso, one of the firefighters.

Chilean police chief Gen. Jose Alejandro Bernales and his wife were among the dead, the official said.

A delegation from Chile was expected to arrive late Thursday to help identify the bodies.

No cause was immediately identified for the crash.

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"It's an old but well-maintained helicopter," said Daniel Delgado Diamante, minister of government and justice. "It was in good shape. Of course, now there will be a process of validating that."

The Chilean government has declared three days of mourning.

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