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13 Die After Helicopter Surveying Earthquake Damage Crashes In Mexico

Students sit in an open area after their school was evacuated in Veracruz, Mexico, on Friday, after a magnitude 7.2 earthquake. Later Friday, 13 people died after a helicopter surveying the damage near the epicenter crashed.

Thirteen people died and 15 were injured Friday night after a military helicopter carrying government officials assessing earthquake damage crashed in southern Mexico, said the Oaxaca state prosecutor's office.

Five women, four men and three children died at the scene and another person died at the hospital, according to the prosecutor's office said.

All of the victims had been on the ground, reports The Associated Press. Details of the casualties are still unclear.

The helicopter was carrying Interior Secretary Alfonso Navarrete and Oaxaca State Gov. Alejandro Murat, who were both reportedly unharmed.

It was attempting to land in a vacant lot in the town of Santiago Jamiltepec when the pilot appeared to lose control, witnesses said.

Both Murat and Navarrete tweeted their sympathy early Saturday to the victims of the crash.

Hours earlier, both men tweeted photos of themselves being briefed by a military official. Navarrete said they were about to begin a tour of the area affected by the quake.

Around 5:30 p.m. local time, a 7.2 magnitude temblor hit south and central Mexico, apparently causing no death and little destruction, but rattling a region still jittery from a September quake that killed more than 200 people.

NPR's Carrie Kahn reported from the capital, Mexico City, that she felt Friday's earthquake "pretty strong."

"You could just feel the whole floor move from out from under you," she said. "And everybody was out in the streets in my neighborhood and looking up at this eight-story building that was right next to us, just swaying back and forth."

The U.S. Geological Survey said the epicenter was located about 23 miles from Pinotepa de Don Luis in Oaxaca state.

Fifty homes in nearby Santiago Jamiltepec suffered major damage in the quake, as did the city hall and main church, said the Interior Department in a statement.

Later Friday, Santiago Jamiltepec also became the site of the deadly crash.

Mexican newspaper Milenio published a video of the crash's aftermath, showing crowds milling about a dusty lot and at least one body lying on the ground.

Jorge Rosales, a reporter aboard the helicopter, spoke to a local television news station about the terrifying moment the pilot lost control.

"The moment the helicopter touched down it lost control, it slid — like it skidded — and it hit some vehicles that were stationed in the area," he said, according to an AP translation. "In that moment, you couldn't see anything, nothing else was heard besides the sound that iron makes when it scrapes the Earth."

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto expressed his condolences to the families of those killed and wished a speedy recovery to the injured.

NPR's Carla Solorzano contributed to this report.

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