Panama City copter crash kills Chilean police boss

Panama City/Santiago - The head of Chile's militarized police corps Carabineros, Jose Alejandro Bernales, died Thursday in the fiery crash of a helicopter in the centre of Panama City, Chilean authorities confirmed.

Bernales, who had headed Carabineros since November 2005, died along with his wife and four other Chileans, the Chilean government said in Santiago.

Panamanian media reported that the helicopter carrying a three- member crew and nine passengers crashed into a warehouse and burst into flames in the densely populated Calidonia neighbourhood. Nearby residents had to be evacuated.

Panamanian television footage showed several charred bodies, though Panamanian civil defence chief Luis Francisco Sucre said that authorities did not yet know the exact death toll.

According to the website of the Chilean daily El Mercurio, Bernales was in Panama for a meeting of top police officials.

Panamanian media reported that Panamanian President Martin Torrijos cut short a visit to El Salvador and offered his condolences to Chilean President Michelle Bachelet.

Chilean Defence Minister Jose Goni was reportedly travelling to Panama in order to obtain first-hand knowledge of the accident. (dpa)