At least 16 police officers have been killed in Colombia in a helicopter crash in a dense wooded region northeast of the capital, Bogota.
Colombia’s Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas told reporters that the accident happened on Tuesday when the US-made Black UH-60 Hawk carrying a total of 18 soldiers went down in the department of Antioquia, near the Gulf of Uraba, some 450 kilometers (280 miles) northeast of Bogota.
Villegas said the helicopter was on an operation to arrest one of the leaders of the Usuga Clan, a powerful drug-smuggling gang that operates in the region.
He said the other two uniformed personnel were in critical condition and taken to a nearby hospital to be treated for serious burns. “Unfortunately, the prognosis is not good,” he said.
Some reports offer different figures for the fatalities and the number of the police forces who had been on board the helicopter.
The Colombian defense minister further said that there was no indication of foul play and that the incident was under investigation.
“For the moment, the most likely theory is that the helicopter crashed into the hillside at a speed of 120 knots, which is 180 kilometers per hour, possibly because of low clouds. The helicopter was found absolutely destroyed,” he said.
The chopper was taking part in a manhunt for Dairo Otoniel Usaga, the leader of Colombia’s most violent drug-smuggling gang. Colombian officials have intensified the hunt for Otoniel with the support of the US Drug Enforcement Administration since February. The US is offering a reward of up to five million dollars for information leading to his capture.