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Head of Guatemala's armed forces, 4 others die when helicopter crashes in mountainous area

In this April 3, 2014 photo, Gen. Rudy Ortiz, the joint chiefs of staff, gives a press conference in Guatemala City. Interior Secretary Maurio Lopez says Gen. Rudy Ortiz died Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014 along with four other military officials after their helicopter fell in a mountainous area of the province of Huehuetenango, near the border with Mexico. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

GUATEMALA CITY – The head of the Guatemalan military’s joint chiefs of staff died in a helicopter crash Wednesday near the border with Mexico.

Interior Secretary Mauricio Lopez said Gen. Rudy Ortiz was killed along with four other military officers when the helicopter went down in a mountainous area of the western province of Huehuetenango.

Lopez identified one of the other victims as Gen. Braulio Mayen, commander of the army’s 5th Brigade.

Ortiz, 51, and the others were flying in a Bell 206 helicopter to the village of Ixquisis, where the two generals were going to check on troops, Lopez said.

“They couldn’t land in Ixquisis and instead decided to go to the military base in Las Palmas and in that trajectory the helicopter crashed,” Lopez said.

The accident happened in a wooded area that is difficult to reach, he said.

The helicopter belonged to Guatemala’s the air force and was in good condition, Lopez said.

Huehuetenango is along drug trafficking routes where Mexican and Guatemalan drug cartels are active. Lopez declined to comment on whether foul play was suspected. He said he wouldn’t speculate on a cause for the crash and would wait for a report on the investigation.

Ortiz was a 32-year veteran of the army who was in charge of all military operations as well as the army’s national and international relations. He planned to retire next year.

President Otto Perez Moline, a retired general, sent his condolences to Ortiz’s family on his Twitter account, calling Ortiz’s loss “a tragic death.”