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Tuesday 19 June 2018

Company in Cuba plane crash ‘had received safety complaints’

The crash left 110 dead.

Grieving relatives of passengers who perished in Cuba’s worst aviation disaster (Ramon Espinosa/AP)
Grieving relatives of passengers who perished in Cuba’s worst aviation disaster (Ramon Espinosa/AP)

By Michael Weissenstein and Bert Wilkinson, Associated Press

The Mexican charter company whose 39-year-old plane crashed in Havana had been the subject of two serious complaints about its crews’ performance over the last decade, according to authorities in Guyana and a retired pilot for Cuba’s national airline.

Mexico’s government said its National Civil Aviation Authority will carry out an operational audit of Damojh airlines to see if its “current operating conditions continue meeting regulations” and to help collect information for the investigation into Friday’s crash in Cuba that left 110 dead.

The plane that crashed, a Boeing 737, was barred from Guyanese airspace last year after authorities discovered that its crew had been allowing dangerous overloading of luggage on flights to Cuba, Guyanese Civil Aviation Director Captain Egbert Field said.

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A Cuban flag is seen flying at half-mast near a statue of national hero Jose Marti (Ramon Espinosa/AP)

The plane and crew were being rented from Mexico City-based Damojh by EasySky, a Honduras-based low-cost airline.

Cuba’s national carrier, Cubana de Aviacion, was also renting the plane and crew in a similar arrangement known as a “wet lease” before the aircraft veered on takeoff to the eastern Cuban city of Holguin and crashed into a field just after noon on Friday, according to Mexican aviation authorities.

A Damojh employee in Mexico City declined to comment, saying the company would be communicating only through written statements.

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Cuban Transport Minister Adel Yzquierdo leaves after speaking to reporters on the island nation’s worst aviation disaster in three decades (Desmond Boylan/AP)

Mexican authorities said Damojh had permits needed to lease its aircraft and had passed a November 2017 verification of its maintenance programme.

Cuban Transportation Minister Adel Yzquierdo Rodriguez told reporters on Saturday afternoon that Cubana had been renting the plane for less than a month under an arrangement in which the Mexican company was entirely responsible for maintenance of the aircraft.

Armando Daniel Lopez, president of Cuba’s Institute of Civil Aviation said  Cuban authorities had not received any complaints about the plane in that month. He declined to comment further.

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Rescue teams search through the wreckage site of a Boeing 737 that plummeted into a field (Ramon Espinosa/AP)

Mr Yzquierdo said it was routine for Cuba to rent planes under a variety of arrangements because of what he described as the country’s inability to purchase its own aircraft due to the US trade embargo on the island.

Cuba has been able to buy planes produced in other countries, including France and Ukraine, but has pulled many from service due to maintenance problems and other issues.

“It’s normal for us to rent planes,” he said. “Why? Because it’s convenient and because of the problem of the blockade that we have. Sometimes we can’t buy the planes that we need, and we need to rent them.”

He said that with Damojh, “the formula here is that they take care of the maintenance of the aircraft. That’s their responsibility.”

He said Cuba did not have pilots certified to fly the Boeing, so it had hired the Mexican crew with the expectation that they were fully trained and certified by the proper authorities.

He also said the jet’s “black box” voice recorder had been recovered and that Cuban officials had granted a US request for investigators from Boeing to travel to the island.

Press Association

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