Many feared dead as Cuban plane with 104 passengers on board crashes on takeoff

Picture taken at the scene of the accident after a Cubana de Aviacion aircraft crashed after taking off from Havana’s Jose Marti airport on May 18, 2018.

A Cuban state airways plane with 104 passengers on board crashed shortly after taking off from Havana Friday, leaving a wreck of smoldering fuselage, as the country’s president warned many people were feared dead.

The Boeing 737 operated by Cubana de Aviacion crashed into a field close to a wooded area near Havana’s Jose Marti airport, sending a thick column of acrid smoke into the air, an AFP journalist at the scene said.

Cubana de Aviacion aircraft crashed

The plane was almost completely destroyed in the crash and subsequent fire. Firefighters, some still hosing down the burnt fuselage, and rescue workers combed through the wreckage, but there seemed little chance of finding survivors.

Cuban plane

What appeared to be one of the wings of the plane was wedged among scorched tree trunks, but the main fuselage appeared to have been entirely destroyed.

Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who went to visit the scene, said there was a “high number” of casualties.

“There has been an unfortunate aviation accident. The news is not very promising, it seems that there is a high number of victims,” Diaz-Canel was quoted as saying after his visit.

Diaz-Canel said nine crew members were believed to have been on board, in addition to the passengers.

The 58-year-old president, who succeeded Raul Castro as the island’s leader only last month, appeared aghast as he surveyed the recovery efforts, wearing a short sleeved green shirt and surrounded by officials.

Airport sources said the jetliner was heading from the capital to the eastern city of Holguin.

State television said the airliner was operated by a foreign crew, but gave no details.

Reports said European airline Blue Panorama had been leasing a 737-400 plane to Cubana de Aviacion for several months.

A look at some of the major plane crashes in Cuba in recent years:

May 18, 2018: A Boeing 737 operated by state airline Cubana crashes on takeoff from Jose Marti International Airport in Havana with 104 passengers on board. There was no immediate word on casualties. The plane was headed to the eastern city of Holguin and crashed between the airport in southern Havana and the nearby town of Santiago de las Vegas.

April 29, 2017: A Cuban military plane crashes into a hillside in the western province of Artemisa, killing eight troops on board, the government said. The Soviet-made AN-26 took off from the Playa Baracoa airport outside Havana and crashed outside the town of Candelaria about 40 miles (65 kilometres) away.

Nov. 4, 2010: An AeroCaribbean flight from Santiago to Havana went down in bad weather as it flew over central Cuba, killing all 68 people aboard, including 28 foreigners. It was the country’s deadliest air disaster in more than two decades. Cuban aviation authorities later blamed bad weather and pilot error for the crash.

Sept. 4, 1989: A chartered Cubana plane flying from Havana to Milan, Italy, went down shortly after takeoff, killing all 126 people on board, as well as at least two dozen on the ground.

Oct. 6, 1976: Cubana flight from Barbados to Jamaica is blown up by bomb, killing 73. The attack is blamed on exiles with ties to U.S.-backed anti-Castro groups. Both of the men accused of masterminding the crime took shelter in Florida, where one, Luis Posada Carriles, lives to this day.

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