Cuba mourns after over 100 killed in plane crash

Cuba began a two-day period of official mourning Saturday, as investigators continued the grim work of combing throug...

Posted: May 20, 2018 4:27 PM
Updated: May 20, 2018 4:27 PM

Cuba began a two-day period of official mourning Saturday, as investigators continued the grim work of combing through the wreckage of the crashed plane that took the lives of over 100 people.

Cubana de Aviaci-n flight DMJ 0972 was traveling from Havana to Holgu-n when the plane crashed as it was taking off at 12:08 p.m. on Friday.

Amateur video taken shortly after the crash showed a large fireball and thick plume of smoke rising from a field and wooded area bordering the airport.

The Boeing 737-200 was split in several sections, with the plane's burned tail resting against a tree. Passenger belongings were scattered across a wide area.

The death toll is now 110, Cuban Transportation Minister Adel Yzquierdo Rodr-guez said at a Saturday press conference in Havana. The minister said that the victims included 99 Cubans, six Mexican crew members and five foreigners. Among the passengers were four children and an infant, Cuban state media reported.

Three survivors -- all Cuban women -- were in critical condition and being treated in Havana, Cuban state media said.

Argentina's Foreign Ministry said two passengers were Argentine.

One of the three survivors was identified by the state-run newspaper Juventud Rebelde as Emiley S-nchez de la O, 39, of the province of Holgu-n, Cuba. The woman was being treated for serious burns, a broken leg and traumatic brain injury. She had been placed on a ventilator, according to the newspaper.

Cuban state TV identified the other two survivors as Maylen Diaz, 19, from Holgu-n and Gretel Androceo, 23, from Havana.

The state-run newspaper Granma reported Friday that one of the three survivors had died, then issued a correction, saying all three were still alive.

Authorities announced Saturday that they had recovered all the remains of the deceased. Officials estimate identifying the victims could take up to 30 days and are asking relatives to help in the process, Cuban state TV reported.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel toured the crash site on Friday and said Cuban officials would seek to determine what caused the crash.

"In addition to lament what occurred and show solidarity to the families," he said. "The events will be investigated and all the information will be shared."

One of the "black boxes" from the plane has been found and is in "good condition," Rodr-guez told Cuban government site Cubadebate. It's not clear if the located "black box" is the flight data recorder or the cockpit voice recorder.

Former Cuban President Raul Castro, recovering from recent hernia surgery, is aware of the crash and is staying informed about the situation, the government said.

Family members of the victims from the city of Holgu-n, Cuba -- more than 700 km (about 435 miles) east of the Cuban capital -- were being brought by bus to Havana to meet with Cuban officials late Friday, according to Cuban state media.

The Cuban government issued a proclamation that the island would observe a period of official mourning from 6 a.m. Saturday morning until midnight on Sunday, and that flags at public buildings and military installations would fly at half staff.

It was not immediately clear what caused the Boeing 737-200 to suddenly crash as it was taking off.

While the plane was flying a route for Cuba's largest national carrier Cubana, the nearly 40-year-old Boeing 737-200 was owned by the Mexican airline Aerol-neas Damoh and leased to Cubana de Aviacion, the Mexican Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement.

The arrangement known as a "wet lease" allows one carrier to provide an aircraft, crew and maintenance to another carrier.

In recent weeks, Cubana has canceled domestic flights and removed planes from service over safety concerns with its own aircraft.

Much of the crash area remained cordoned off Saturday, as Cuban officials continued their investigation into the accident.

Residents said the plane narrowly missed causing more injuries and fatalities on the ground.

"The plane was revving its engines to take off but it couldn't," Orestes Bentancour, who witnessed the crash, told CNN. "Luckily it didn't land on anyone's house."

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