Friday, May 30, 2008

Chile Police Chief Dies in Helicopter Crash

General Jose Bernales (1949-2008)

General Jose Bernales was on official visit to Panama

A Bell UH-1N helicopter crashed on May 29 at 2.00 p.m. local time in downtown Panama City, the capital of that Central American country. On board was a delegation of the Chilean military police (Carabineros) that included its director Gral. Jose Bernales (59), Lieut.Coronel Oscar Tapia, Lieut.Coronel Ricardo Orozco, Captain Mauricio Fuenzalida and Commander Maria De Felix of the Panama police. The helicopter crashed against a shopping mall called “Banana Price” and until now 12 people have been confirmed dead including Teresa Bianchini, wife of General Bernales. According to eyewitnesses of the accident the pilot of the helicopter fell onto the roof of the store and declared that “one of the motors had failed”. Another survivor was Sargeant Jose Munoz of the Carabineros and it seems that he may have been the man that bystanders said had jumped off the helicopter seconds before it hit the Banana Price building. TVN, Panama´s state television network reported that only a few days ago an advertisement had appeared on the Panamanian government website announcing the need to buy spare parts for a UH-1N helicopter. A few hours after the crash, the President of Panama, Martin Torrijos phoned his Chilean counterpart Michelle Bachelet to inform her of the death of the four police officers. Bachelet decreed three days of national mourning and appointed General Eduardo Gordon as the new Director of Carabineros. The father of President Torrijos, General Omar Torrijos was responsible for signing the Torrijos-Carter Accord whereby the United States returned control of the Panama Canal to the local government was also killed in a suspicious helicopter crash in 1981. It is expected that the remains of all the Chilean citizens that were killed in the crash will return by airplane in the evening of May 30. General Bernales joined the force in 1970 and had been appointed Director in 2005. Many Chilean citizens acknowledge that Bernales was able to improve the reputation of the Carabineros police force that was seriously affected during the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet that lasted from 1973 to 1989. In 2006 General Bernales fired the head of the anti-riot squad after the officers under his command had brutally beaten up several press reporters and photographers during a street protest in downtown Santiago.
The Carabineros (riflemen in Spanish) police corps was formed in 1927 and its initial mission was to patrol the 4,000 kilometers of border that Chile shares with Argentina, Bolivia and Peru. At present it force is of approximately 30,000 and its activities include patrolling in urban areas, investigating traffic accidents and maintaining order during public events such as football matches and cultural events.
You may listen to the anthem of Carabineros at

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