PV International Desk : A 39-year-old airliner with 110 people aboard crashed and burned in a cassava field just after taking off from the Havana airport Friday, leaving three survivors in Cuba’s worst aviation disaster in three decades, officials said.
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 field of debris left where Cubana Flight 972 hit the ground.
“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.
State TV said the jet veered sharply to the right after takeoff, and Diaz-Canel said a special commission had been formed to investigate the cause of the crash.
“The only thing we heard, when we were checking in, an explosion, the lights went out in the airport and we looked out and saw black smoke rising and they told us a plane had crashed,” Argentine tourist Brian Horanbuena told The Associated Press at the airport.
Skies were overcast and rainy at the airport at the time of the incident, with winds reportedly around 4 mph (6 kph).
Authorities said there were 104 passengers and six crew members on the flight operated by the Cuban state airline. Mexican authorities said the Boeing 737-201 was built in 1979 and rented by Cubana from Aerolineas Damojh, a small charter company that also goes by the name Global Air.
A statement from the country’s Transportation Department identified the pilot and co-pilot as Capt. Jorge Luis Nunez Santos and first officer Miguel Angel Arreola Ramirez. It said the flight attendants were Maria Daniela Rios, Abigail Hernandez Garcia and Beatriz Limon. Global Air said maintenance worker Marco Antonio Lopez Perez was also aboard.
Outside the company’s Mexico City offices, former Global Air flight attendant Ana Marlen Covarrubias said she had worked for the company for over seven years and knows nearly all the crew members.