Cuba: more than 100 dead after plane crashes shortly after takeoff

Cuba: more than 100 dead after plane crashes shortly after takeoff

18 May 2018

  • Cuban president offers condolences to victims’ families
  • Jet carrying 104 passengers and six crew crashed in field

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More than 100 people have died after an aging Boeing 737 carrying 104 passengers and six crew crashed into a nearby field shortly after taking off from Havana’s main airport.

In a televised address on Friday afternoon, the Cuban president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, offered his condolences to victims’ families and said an investigation into the disaster had been launched. 

Witnesses said that the 39-year old airliner veered back towards the airport less than a minute after takeoff from Jose Martí international airport, but became ensnared in electricity cables before crashing down.

“When we were checking in, we heard an explosion, the lights went out in the airport and we saw black smoke rising – and they told us a plane had crashed,” Argentine tourist Brian Horanbuena told the Associated Press at the airport.

At the scene of the crash near the town of Santiago de las Vegas, thick black smoke plumed out of the torn wreckage which was scattered across a field of cassava.

Cuba: more than 100 dead after plane crashes shortly after takeoff

“It’s a disaster,” a military official told the AP.

Three survivors arrived at the Calixto Garcia hospital in Havana in critical condition.

“She is alive but very burnt and swollen,” one distressed relative told Reuters at the hospital.

Other family members gathered at the airport where they were rushed to a private area to await news. “My daughter is 24. My God, she’s only 24,” cried Beatriz Pantoja, whose daughter Leticia was on board the plane. 

The plane was on a domestic flight, heading for the city of eastern city of Holguín, and most of the passengers were Cuban, according to local media. 

As tourism has boomed in Cuba in recent years, package holidays in Holguín province’s beaches have become increasingly popular.

The 737 was operated by the state-run airline Cubana de Aviación but had been leased from a small Mexican charter company called Damojh Aerolíneas, which also operates as Global Air Mexico. 

The plane was built in 1979, according to Mexican authorities, who also confirmed that five Mexican crew members were among the dead.

“We heard an explosion and then saw a big cloud of smoke go up,” said Gilberto Menendez, who runs a restaurant near the crash site in the agricultural municipality of Boyeros, 20 km (12 miles) south of Havana.

Cubana has placed many of its planes out of service because of maintenance problems in recent months.

Cuba: more than 100 dead after plane crashes shortly after takeoff

Unusually, news of the crash was initially broken by state media, which reported the crash less than an hour after it happened.

Cuban channels seldom break news of catastrophes. In Cuba, the state-controlled information apparatus usually strives to maintain and ambience of calm and stability.

News bulletins broadcast footage of emergency services carrying away survivors in oxygen masks on stretchers. Cuba’s main newspaper, Granma, which describes itself as the “official voice of the Communist party of Cuba”, was providing live updates on the crash.

During his inauguration speech in last month, Díaz-Canel had called on the ruling Communist party to make better use of the internet to communicate with the country’s people. SOURCE: TheGuardian

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