Cuba mourns after over 100 killed in plane crash
(CNN) — 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 Aviación flight DMJ 0972 was traveling from Havana to Holguín 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 Rodríguez said at a Saturday press conference in Havana.
The minister said that the victims included 99 Cuban passengers, six Mexican crew members and five foreign passengers — two Argentinians, two of “Saharan origin,” and one Mexican.
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.
One of the three survivors was identified by the state-run newspaper Juventud Rebelde as Emiley Sánchez de la O, 39, of the province of Holguín, 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 Holguín 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.”
Family members of the victims from the city of Holguín, 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.
Rodríguez said one of two “black boxes” — the cockpit voice recorder — has been recovered. Searchers expect to locate the flight data recorder soon, he said.
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 Aerolíneas 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.
Rodríguez said the plane was rented about a month ago.
“It is habitual for us to rent planes,” he said. “This is not the only plane that we have rented. … As the leases come up, we rent other planes.
“This is something that we do in Cuba. Why? Because it is convenient, and also because of the blockade problem that we have. We can’t buy the planes that we need, and so we need to rent them.”
Rodríguez said Cuba has asked North American authorities, the plane manufacturer, international investigators and the insurance company to come to Cuba.
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.”
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.