Ecuador's first female defense minister was killed in a mid-air collision of two helicopters on Wednesday after only nine days in office, government and military officials said.
The accident in the Andean nation further rattled the leftist government of President Rafael Correa, who has clashed with Congress over his executive powers and prompted street protests since taking office along with his ministers on January 15.
Defence Minister Guadalupe Larriva, a 50-year-old former teacher and senior official of a socialist political party supporting Correa, died in the crash in a Pacific coastal province east of Quito, Correa told reporters.
Correa gave no specific details on the cause of the collision that killed Larriva, her teenage daughter and five military personnel aboard the Gazelle helicopters.
"We are going to ask friendly countries to help us with the investigation of the accident," Correa told reporters at the port city of Manta, near the crash site.
"The government, the armed forces and her family are living a moment of great pain and we ask everyone to join us in prayer."
Ecuadorean Vice President Lenin Moreno said he received a report from the military saying it was an unfortunate accident.
Other Cabinet members dressed in black gathered inside Moreno's home in Quito to mourn Larriva's death.
Correa wanted Larriva, one of a few civilians to lead Ecuador's 176-year-old military, to control an institution that has played a part in the ouster of three presidents in the last decade by publicly withdrawing its support as street protests erupted.
Larriva, one of the most popular members of the Cabinet, had promised to strengthen presidential control of military ranks, improve salaries for the armed forces and make the promotions system more transparent.
US firefighters stationed at an air base in Manta rushed to the scene of the crash, a US Embassy spokesman said.