MEXICO CITY – The country’s top Cabinet secretary, Francisco Blake Mora, a key figure in Mexico’s battle with drug cartels, died Friday in a helicopter crash that President Felipe Calderon said was probably an accident.
Blake Mora, 45, was the second interior minister, the No. 2 post in the government, to die in an air crash during Calderon’s administration.
Despite some tendencies to suspect a hit on the top officials leading Calderon’s offensive against organized crime, the crash that killed Blake Mora and seven others may have had to do with bad weather. A Learjet that slammed into a Mexico City street in 2008, killing former interior secretary Juan Camilo Mourino and 15 others, was blamed on pilot error.
One of Blake Mora’s last postings on his Twitter account commemorated the loss of Mourino. “Today we remember Juan Camilo Mourino three years after his death, a person who was working to build a better Mexico,” he tweeted on Nov. 4.
Blake Mora’s death, while a blow to the government, is not likely to change policy or day-to-day operations.
Calderon, visibly emotional over the loss, said the Super Puma helicopter was flying in fog when it went down in a remote area southeast of Mexico City. Still, he said all possible causes were under investigation. He said the pilot had sufficient expertise.
“Mexico has lost a great patriot … and I lost a dear friend,” said Calderon, who struggled to maintain composure at one point during an address to the country. “He was not only an exemplary minister, he was an exemplary Mexican.”
President Barack Obama called Calderon to offer his condolences.
Calderon appeared to try to quell any suggestions of sabotage, saying Blake Mora’s helicopter “was always under guard” in the hangar of Mexico’s equivalent of the Secret Service and that it had recently undergone maintenance.
The helicopter left from a military base in Mexico City at 8:45 a.m. and 10 minutes later disappeared from radar, Transportation Secretary Dionisio Perez Jacome said at a news conference late Friday. He said the government has asked U.S. and French aviation crash experts to help in the investigation.
Authorities said the undersecretary for human rights, Felipe Zamora, was among the seven others killed, including the pilot.
Calderon appointed Blake Mora as interior secretary in July 2010. That put him in charge of coordinating domestic policies including security, human rights, migration and the president’s relation with the legislature and opposition parties.
Blake Mora was traveling to a prosecutors’ meeting in the neighboring state of Morelos when the helicopter went down in a mountainous area of Chalco in the state of Mexico on the border with Mexico City.
“In the morning, there was a whole lot of fog,” said homemaker Marisol Palacios, who lives on the lower slopes of the hill where the crash occurred.
She said she didn’t hear the crash and wasn’t aware anything had happened until helicopters carrying rescue teams arrived. Video of the wreckage suggested the helicopter plowed into the hillside and broke in half but did not explode or burn.