MEXICO CITY — He was the face of Mexico's federal government, the chief public servant carrying a message to stay tough and bringing new offensives to states battered by drug violence.
The death of Mexico's No. 2 official, Interior Secretary Francisco Blake Mora, in a chopper crash Friday was a stunning mishap too odd for some Mexicans to accept as an accident.
Even as President Felipe Calderon choked back emotion in announcing the loss of "a great patriot ... a dear friend" in a crash that may have been caused by weather, he reiterated his resolve to pursue the war against cartels. It has cost more than 40,000 lives by many estimates, though the government has given no official figures since 35,000 deaths nearly a year ago.
"I am convinced that the best way to honor his generosity and loyalty ... is to intensify the struggle," Calderon said in a national address announcing Mora's death along with seven others outside the capital. "We will continue with renewed zeal."
Though the secretary of the interior is considered the government's second-in-charge, other Cabinet members are more central to carrying out the drug war: the secretaries of defense, navy and public security and the attorney general. Mora, 45, who was appointed in June 2010, was the fourth interior secretary since Calderon's election five years ago.
The crash of the helicopter, part of the presidential fleet, also killed the undersecretary for legal affairs and human rights, Felipe Zamora, two other interior officials, the chief of Mora's security detail and three crew members, all air force officers who served in the equivalent of Mexico's Secret Service.
Transportation Secretary Dionisio Perez Jacome said Saturday that the pilot was following visual flight rules, which require always keeping eye contact with the ground and the craft wasn't being directed by air traffic control officials. He said the pilot chose an alternate route, presumably because of dense fog in the Ajusco mountain range south of Mexico City.
Perez said weather conditions were proper when the helicopter left the military base in Mexico City on Friday morning, but 10 minutes later officials lost track of the aircraft.
The Mexican government has asked the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and French aviation crash experts to help in the investigation.