MORELIA, Mexico -

Gunmen ambushed and killed one of Mexico's highest ranking navy officials and the officer escorting him Sunday in the rough western state of Michoacan, authorities said. Two other people were injured in the shooting.

The state prosecutors' office said Sunday's attack on Vice Adm. Carlos Miguel Salazar happened on a dirt road near the town of Churintzio.

Salazar is the top navy commander in the Pacific coastal state of Jalisco.

Alejandro Arellano, spokesman for Michoacan attorney general's office, said Salazar's driver apparently took the dirt road because the main highway had been closed. He said Ricardo Fernandez Hernandez, an officer serving as the vice admiral's bodyguard, was also killed.

He added that a woman and another man traveling with in the car were injured.

A statement from the Mexican navy said the commander's SUV was traveling on a main highway that connects Morelia, Michoacan's capital, to the city of Guadalajara and farther west to Salazar's navy base, but was forced to take a detour near Churintzio.

In between two villages, men armed with high-powered rifles opened fire on the car, it said.

Helicopters of the army, navy and federal police and more than 200 security officers and emergency workers converged on the scene after the shooting.

The attackers had not been located, but officials said forces searching the area found an abandoned car suspected of being used by the gunmen.

Since Tuesday, gunmen apparently working for the Knights Templar drug cartel have been staging a series of attacks on federal police convoys, killing at least four officers and wounding five others.

The death toll from the clashes also included 20 gunmen. Authorities said gunmen have hijacked trucks and buses to block highways before making their attacks.

President Enrique Peña Nieto sent thousands of troops and federal police to the area two months ago because of a surge in violence stemming from a reported fight between the Knights Templar and a gang called the New Generation, based in neighboring Jalisco state.