Image: Panama helicopter crash
Arnulfo Franco  /  AP
Police officers and rescue workers in the area where a helicopter crashed into a building in Panama City on Thursday. Chilean diplomats say Chile's top police chief, Gen. Jose Alejandro Bernales, was killed.
updated 5/29/2008 8:52:09 PM ET 2008-05-30T00:52:09

Chile's national police chief and 10 others were killed Thursday when the aging Panamanian government helicopter they were riding in crashed into a three-story building in Panama City.

Chilean 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.

Panamanian Interior Minister Daniel Delgado said five Panamanian officials also died in the crash. A local policeman was injured.

It was not immediately clear what caused the crash.

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.

Panamanian President Martin Torrijos — who was in El Salvador for a regional conference — called Bachelet to express his condolences, said Torrijos' spokesman, Eric Rodriguez.

The 12-seat helicopter was built in 1973. It had been used once by former president Gen. Omar Torrijos, the current president's father, National Police spokesman Eduardo Lin Yuen said. Torrijos died in an airplane crash in Panama in 1981.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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