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. 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.
"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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