Plane Crash in Mexico City Neighborhood Kills Adviser to Mexico's President

MEXICO CITY -- A small plane crashed in a wealthy Mexico City neighborhood on Tuesday, killing the nation's powerful interior secretary and at least seven others, and setting dozens of cars ablaze.

Juan Camilo Mourino, 37, was one of President Felipe Calderon's closest advisers, but has been embroiled in scandal since taking office in the midst of Mexico's violent fight against drug cartels. He was in charge of the country's security.

"With his death, Mexico has lost a great Mexican, intelligent, loyal and committed to his ideals and his country," Calderon told a news conference. "I ask all Mexicans that they don't allow any event, no matter how difficult or painful, to weaken them in the pursuit of a better Mexico."

Presidential spokesman Max Cortazar said Mourino and a group of advisers were returning from an event in the city of San Luis Potosi when the plane went down.

Officials say the crash appeared to be an accident, but Calderon said his administration would await for the results of a full investigation.

The Learjet 24 set fire to about two dozen vehicles on a street in the posh Lomas de Chapultepec neighborhood in an area filled with tall office buildings. Officials evacuated about 1,800 people from area offices.

Mayor Marcelo Ebrard said all those aboard the plane were killed and that more people may have died on the ground.

"It's likely that we will find other bodies in the vehicles," Ebrard told the Televisa news network.

Hundreds of police, firefighters and soldiers swarmed the scene, which was littered with the burned-out hulks of vehicles and pieces of what appeared to be bodies.

Eight bodies were recovered and at least 40 people were injured, seven of them seriously. The jet seated eight, and Calderon listed eight people -- including assistants and spokespeople for Mourino -- but it was unclear whether all the bodies recovered were from the plane. The bodies were too badly burned to be immediately identified.

The plane's wreckage came to rest just yards from tall office buildings and Ebrard said many more people would almost certainly have died had the plane hit one of the towers.

Also aboard the plane was former assistant attorney general Jose Luis Santiago, who was previously in charge of pursuing extraditions against drug traffickers, and who had been the target of at least one planned assassination attempt in the past.

Civil aviation officials were investigating the cause of the crash. Transportation Secretary Luis Tellez said no distress signal had been registered from the plane.

Mourino was one of the most controversial officials when he joined Calderon's Cabinet in January because of his family's involvement with private contracts to Mexico's state-owned oil company, precisely at a time when Calderon sought to open up the legal framework for more such contracts.

The involvement of Mourino's family in private contracts for the transport of fuel angered many here, who view the state oil company as a point of national pride and oppose any openings to private involvement in the industry.

Born in Spain and educated at the University of Tampa in Florida, some also criticized the fact that he was foreign-born, arguing he shouldn't be able to hold one of the top Cabinet security posts.

He became a Mexican citizen about two decades ago, served as a federal legislator and went on to become Calderon's closest adviser as head of the Office of the Presidency. He was one of the youngest men to have held the politically sensitive post of interior secretary.

Mourino's family has business interests in southern Mexico, and Spanish firms have recently made major inroads in Mexico's telecommunications and banking sector, drawing criticism from some Mexicans who resent the influence of the country's former colonial master.

Mexico has had a history of problems in the operation and maintenance of government aircraft, and Mexico is slated to receive more helicopters and planes as part of a $400 million U.S. aid package known as the Merida Initiative, to be released soon.

In 2005, a helicopter crash blamed on poor weather conditions killed Mexico's top police official, public safety secretary Ramon Martin Huerta, the head of federal police and seven other people.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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