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.
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.
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.
The last major airline crash in Cuba was in July 1997, when an Antonov-24 passenger plane fell into the sea off Santiago de Cuba. All 44 aboard were killed, including two Brazilians and two Spaniards.
In March 2002, a small Antonov-2 plane travelling from Cienfuegos to Cayo Coco crashed in the central province of Santa Clara. All 16 people aboard, among them six Canadian tourists, four Britons and two Germans.