Chile’s police chief and 10 others were killed when the ageing Panamanian government helicopter in which they were travelling crashed into a three-storey building in Panama City.
Chilean president Michelle Bachelet rushed to Santiago from northern Chile when she learned of the death of General 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 Mr Tapia’s wife, Carolina Reyes.
Panamanian interior minister Daniel Delgado said five Panamanian officials also died in the crash and one 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 Ms Bachelet to express his condolences, said his spokesman, Eric Rodriguez.
The 12-seat helicopter was built in 1973. It had been used once by former president General Omar Torrijos, the current president’s father, National Police spokesman Eduardo Lin Yuen said. Omar Torrijos died in a plane crash in Panama in 1981.
Chile decreed three days of national mourning and flags were lowered to half-mast.
Ms Bachelet called General Bernales, who had served as chief since 2005, “a great, great police director, an important support for the government on order and security matters”.
“I am very, very sad. I feel a great pain,” Ms Bachelet said.
“We heard a fearful noise and we fled into the street,” said Florencia Thompson, a personnel manager at a warehouse next to the one hit by the chopper.