BRASILIA (AFP) - Brazilian presidential candidate Eduardo Campos, a contender to unseat President Dilma Rousseff in October elections, died Wednesday when his campaign jet crashed in the city of Santos, killing all seven people aboard.
Campos, a 49-year-old socialist who had been running third in the polls, was flying to Sao Paulo to record a TV segment when his Cessna 560XL slammed into a gymnasium and several houses, breaking into pieces and igniting a large fire.
Rousseff declared a state of national mourning and suspended her campaign for three days.
“All of Brazil is in mourning. We lost a great Brazilian today, Eduardo Campos. We lost a great comrade,” the President said in a statement.
Campos’ plane was en route from Rio de Janeiro’s Santos Dumont airport to Guaruja airport outside Sao Paulo when it hit bad weather, according to air force spokesman Pedro Luis Farcic.
“As it was preparing to land, the plane fell due to bad weather. Air traffic control then lost contact with the aircraft,” he said.
All seven people aboard the plane died, the air force told media network Globo.
The other passengers were advisers, a photographer and a videographer.
An AFP photographer said pieces of the destroyed jet were strewn around the crash site in a bustling residential neighborhood of Santos, a port on the Atlantic.
Flaming piles of rubble sent up a large column of smoke, and several houses were on fire.
Santos firefighters said at least 10 people were injured, according to Globo’s online news portal G1.
Santos restaurant owner Thiago Fernandes said the impact of the crash had shattered the front windows at his business.
“I was working in the restaurant and there was a very loud boom, like nothing I had ever heard. All the front windows broke. Later they told us that an aircraft had fallen on the pool of a gymnasium a block away,” he told Globo News TV.
The air force said it had launched an investigation into what caused the medium-sized jet to crash.
Campos, a former governor of the northeastern state of Pernambuco, had 8 per cent support from likely voters, according to a survey released on July 22 by polling firm Ibope ahead of the October 5 first-round election.
Rousseff, who is standing for a second four-year term, leads the race with 38 per cent support, while social democrat Aecio Neves has 22 per cent, the poll found.
The presidential campaign officially opens on August 19.
Campos had been traveling to Sao Paulo, the Brazilian financial hub, to film a campaign-related TV segment with his running mate, ecologist Marina Silva, Globo TV reported.
Silva was not aboard the plane, reports said.
Campos, who was married with five children, had been running on a platform of change after 20 years of government by Rousseff’s Workers’ Party and Neves’ PSDB. He had served as science and technology minister from 2004 to 2005 under Rousseff’s mentor and predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Lawmakers from Campos’ PSB party expressed their shock on Twitter.
“It is with great sadness that I received the news of the tragedy involving Eduardo Campos. I’m very upset,” representative Julio Delgado tweeted.
“We lost our greatest leader. I’m devastated,” said colleague Beto Albuquerque.