Cuba plane crash: 100 dead as Boeing 737 goes down in Havana; top updates

Cuba plane crash near Havana airport. Photo: Reuters
A Cuban-operated airliner with at least 110 people aboard crashed and burned in a cassava field just after takeoff from the Havana airport yesterday. Cuban media reported three survivors. The Boeing 737 went down just after noon a short distance from the end of the runway at Jose Marti International Airport while on a short-hop flight to the eastern city of Holguin. Firefighters rushed to extinguish the flames that engulfed the jet. "There is a high number of people who appear to have died," Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said from the scene. "Things have been organized, the fire has been put out, and the remains are being identified." Relatives of those aboard were ushered into a private area at the terminal to await word on their loved ones. "My daughter is 24, my God, she's only 24!" cried Beatriz Pantoja, whose daughter Leticia was on the plane.

The cause of the disaster was under investigation. State TV said the jet veered sharply to the right after takeoff. Authorities said there were 104 passengers and nine crew members on the flight, operated by Cubana, the Cuban state airline. An employee who answered the phone at the Mexico City office of the charter business Aerolinea Global Air said the plane belonged to the company and had a six-person Mexican crew. Cubana is notorious for delays and cancellations and has taken many of its planes out of service because of maintenance problems in recent months, prompting it to hire charter aircraft from other companies. Four crash survivors were taken to a Havana hospital, and three remained alive as of mid-afternoon, hospital director Martinez Blanco told Cuban state TV.

State media reports stopped short of saying the rest were dead. On Thursday, Cuban First Vice President Salvador Valdes Mesa met with Cubana officials to discuss improvements to its service. The airline blames its spotty record on a lack of parts and airplanes because of the US trade embargo against the communist island.

It was Cuba's third major aviation accident since 2010. Last year a Cuban military plane crashed into a hillside in the western province of Artemisa, killing eight soldiers.

Cubana de Aviación, the national airline of Cuba, has had a troubled history. Due to US economic embargo, it has largely been dependent on Russian and European aircraft, according to Independent. Havana's airport handles close to six million passengers a year.

Here are top updates on Cuba plane crash, Boeing 737

1. Boeing statement on plane crash: Expressing its condolences to the families of the deceased, the airlines released a statement which said, "Boeing extends our deepest condolences to the families and friends of those on board Flight 972 operated by Global Aerolineas Damojh on behalf of Cubana de Aviacion. Boeing also extends our best wishes for the recovery of those who were injured."

We are aware of news reports out of Cuba and are closely monitoring the situation.

— Boeing Airplanes (@BoeingAirplanes) May 18, 2018

2. Argentina is 'deeply shaken' by the deaths: Argentina's Foreign Ministry confirmed that two of the South American nation's citizens died in Friday's crash. A statement released by the ministry stated that Argentina is 'deeply shaken' by the deaths. 

3. Majority of passengers were Cubans: The government has confirmed that majority of the passengers on board were Cuban. There were five travellers from other nationalities. In a statement, it says, "#Cuba The majority of passengers on the plane were Cuban, with the exception of five travelers from abroad and the crew #FuerzaCuba."

4. Bodies are being identified, says President: Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel has released a statement saying there are three survivors, who are in critical condition. He adds that the fire from the crash has been put out by rescuers, who are now trying to identify the bodies. He said investigators are on the scene to ascertain the cause of the crash.

"There is a high number of people who appear to have died," Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said from the scene, reports Reuters. "Things have been organized, the fire has been put out, and the remains are being identified."

5. Reason for crash still unknown: The cause for the crash is still unknown. However, according to witnesses, the wreckage has been strewn across the area, and blackened parts of the fuselage are visible, reported Reuters. The plane, which took off from Havana, was heading to Holguin in eastern Cuba. It crashed 20 kilometres south of Havana.

6. Over 100 dead: More than 100 people were killed after a plane crashed in Cuba. A Boeing 737 domestic passenger plane, ferrying 114 passengers including five children and nine crew members from Havana to Holguin, came down shortly after takeoff.

7. The plane, designated as Flight 972 and bound for Holguin in the eastern part of Cuba, belonged to Mexico’s Global Air and had at least six Mexican crew members on board, an airline official told the Associated Press. The Mexican Ministry of Communications and Transportation identified the cockpit crew members as Captain Jorge Luis Núñez Santos and First Officer Miguel Ángel Arreola Ramírez, both Mexicans.

Cuba plane crash near Havana airport. Photo: Reuters

8. Cuba's 3rd major aviation accident since 2010:  In 2010, an AeroCaribbean flight from Santiago to Havana went down in bad weather, killing all 68 people aboard, including 28 foreigners, in what was the country's worst air disaster in more than two decades.

The last deadly accident involving a Cubana-operated plane was in 1989, when a charter flight from Havana to Milan, Italy, crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all 126 people on board and at least two dozen on the ground.

Cubana's director general, Captain Hermes Hernandez Dumas, told state media last month that the airline's domestic flights had carried 11,700 more passengers than planned between January and April.

It said 64 per cent of flights took off on time, up from 59 per cent the previous year.

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