Wednesday 20 June 2018

Over 100 passengers feared dead as plane crashes in Cuba

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel arrives at the site of the accident. Photo: Getty Images
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel arrives at the site of the accident. Photo: Getty Images

Sarah Marsh

At least three people may have survived a fiery crash of a Boeing 737 in Cuba yesterday in which as many as 104 passengers and crew were feared dead.

The aircraft, on a domestic flight to Holguin, had 105 passengers plus nine crew. Five children were reported to be on board.

Earlier reports on state media said there were 104 passengers.

The fire from the crash had been put out and authorities were identifying bodies, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said.

Wreckage was strewn over an area 20km south of Havana and ambulances and firefighters were at the scene, a witness said.

Blackened parts of the fuselage were visible.

Firefighters quell the flames at the scene. Photo: Getty Images
Firefighters quell the flames at the scene. Photo: Getty Images

Explosion

"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 area of Boyeros.

 

Carlos Alberto Martinez, the director of Havana's Calixto Garcia hospital, said four victims had been brought there.

One had died and the other three were in a serious condition.

"She is alive but very burnt and swollen," said a distressed relative of one of the survivors at the hospital.

The flight was destined for Holguin in eastern Cuba and was leased by airline Cubana from a small Mexican airline called Damojh or Global. Holguin has some of the island's most pristine beaches and is a tourist destination.

The nationality of those on board was not immediately clear. State media said that the crew were foreign, but provided no further details.

Flight tracking websites indicated the flight was CU972, departing Havana at 11am (3pm Irish time).

Boeing said in a Twitter post: "We are aware of news reports out of Cuba and are closely monitoring the situation."

Boeing 737 aircraft use engines made by CFM International, the supplier of the world's most-used engines, built in a joint venture between GE and France's Safran.

Mexican authorities said the aircraft was built in 1979.

A statement from the country's Transportation Department identified the pilot and co-pilot as Captain Jorge Luis Nunez Santos and first officer Miguel Angel Arreola Ramirez. The flight attendants were Maria Daniela Rios, Abigail Hernandez Garcia and Beatriz Limon.

It added that the plane was rented by Cuban state carrier Cubana de Aviacion from Aerolineas Damojh, the legal name of a small charter company that also goes by Global Air.

In November 2010 a Global Air flight originating in Mexico City made an emergency landing in Puerto Vallarta because its front landing gear did not deploy. The fire was quickly extinguished and none of the 104 people aboard were injured. That plane was a 737 first put into service in 1975.

On Thursday, Cuba's first vice president Salvador Valdes Mesa had met Cubana bosses to discuss public complaints about its service, according to state-run media.

Problems included the cancellation of numerous domestic flights this year, and long delays which the company said were caused by technical problems with its aircraft.

Earlier this month, the company was ordered to suspend flights by its six Russian-built AN-158 aircraft, most of which had reportedly already been grounded.

The last fatal crash in Cuba was in 2017, a military flight that killed all eight personnel aboard.

In 2010, a commercial Aero Caribbean plane crashed in central Cuba. All 68 people on board were killed.

The latest available information on Cuba from safety aviation agency ICAO, dating back to 2008, ranks it above the global average - but it preceded the latest three crashes.

Irish Independent

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