Mexico crash co-pilot said craft was faulty: report

MEXICO CITY Sun Nov 13, 2011 5:53pm EST

Mexican President Felipe Calderon (2nd L), his wife Margarita Zavala (L) stands guard to honour next to coffin of Mexico's Interior Minister Francisco Blake during his funeral ceremony in Mexico City November 12, 2011. REUTERS/Henry Romero

Mexican President Felipe Calderon (2nd L), his wife Margarita Zavala (L) stands guard to honour next to coffin of Mexico's Interior Minister Francisco Blake during his funeral ceremony in Mexico City November 12, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Henry Romero

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MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The co-pilot of a helicopter that crashed outside Mexico City, killing Interior Minister Francisco Blake and seven others, had told his brother the aircraft was faulty, a newspaper reported on Sunday.

"My brother told me on Wednesday. That helicopter is not OK and it was failing on the way back from Colima," Hiram Fernando Escobar told El Universal newspaper of his conversation with brother Pedro Ramon Escobar, who died in the crash on Friday.

But officials charged with investigating the accident repeated in a news conference on Sunday that the craft was fit to fly, sticking with their previous explanation that bad weather was a key factor in the crash.

Mexico's Communications and Transportation Minister Dionisio Perez-Jacome said that the helicopter, made in 1984, had been serviced between November 4-6, and had flown on November 9 and 10 without reports of problems.

Samples taken from the helicopter's wreckage and other evidence are consistent with the hypothesis that it crashed into a hillside after running into thick fog or cloud, Perez-Jacome said.

Investigators were not asked directly about the comments by the co-pilot's brother, but they said they did not believe there was engine failure.

The helicopter was in radar contact up to the seconds before the crash and traveling at a constant speed and direction.

"That diminishes those hypotheses that there were control or navigation problems and, in an important way, strengthens the hypothesis that the impact happened in normal flight conditions and on a straight level," said Gilberto Lopez, chief executive of Mexico's Airports and Auxiliary Services, an independent government agency.

Blake, 45, was the second interior minister under President Felipe Calderon to be killed in an air crash, which prompted speculation on Twitter about the cause of his death. All aboard were killed.

As interior minister, Blake was responsible for helping Calderon in the country's fight against powerful drug cartels.

He was flying to Cuernavaca about 60 miles south of Mexico City when his helicopter encountered low-lying clouds, prompting the pilot to divert from the planned route only to get lost in fog, investigators have said.

Initial checks of the helicopter showed no damage from an explosion or fire, Perez-Jacome said on Sunday. A more exhaustive investigation is under way.

Separately, a poll published by Milenio newspaper on Sunday showed 36 percent of people surveyed in Michoacan state -- where there are state elections on Sunday -- believe the helicopter crashed as a result of an attack, while 43 percent believe it was an accident.

(Reporting by Elinor Comlay; Editing by Phil Barbara and Paul Simao)

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