Chile police chief dies in Panama crash

May 29, 2008 2:56:48 PM PDT
Chile's national police chief and five other visiting Chileans were killed Thursday.Chile's President Michelle Bachelet rushed to Santiago from northern Chile when she learned of the death of Gen. Jose Alejandro Bernales, 59. He was on an official visit to Panama with his wife, Teresa Bianchini. Also killed were Chilean police commanders Oscar Tapia and Ricardo Orozco, Capt. Mauricio Fuenzalida, and Tapia's wife, Carolina Reyes.

Chile decreed three days of national mourning, and flags were lowered to half-staff.

"We have lost a friend," Chile's Interior Minister Edmundo Perez said. Bernales had served as police director since 2005.

It was unclear if anyone else was killed. An Associated Press reporter at the scene saw a body covered by a sheet, but officials wouldn't say if the victim had been in the helicopter or on the ground.

Thick, black smoke rose from the damaged building, which appeared to be a warehouse. Police cordoned off the scene, an area of the capital packed with clothing stores and small restaurants.

It was unclear what caused the crash.