HAVANA — An aging Boeing 737 with 110 people aboard crashed and burned shortly after taking off from Havana’s airport, leaving three survivors and investigators sifting through debris for clues as to what caused the airliner to go down.
It was Cuba’s worst aviation disaster in three decades and its third major air accident since 2010. Skies were overcast and rainy at the airport at the time of Friday’s disaster and Cuban state television said the 39-year-old jet veered sharply to the right after departing on a domestic flight to the eastern city of Holguin.
“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.
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said a special commission had been formed to find the cause of the crash. The plane had 104 mainly Cuban passengers and six crew members.
“Things have been organized, the fire has been put out, and the remains are being identified,” he said.
State airline Cubana, which operated the flight, has had a generally good safety record but is notorious for delays and cancellations and has taken many of its planes out of service because of maintenance problems in recent months, prompting it to hire charter aircraft from other companies.
Mexican officials 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.
Cubana Flight 972 went down just after noon a short distance from the end of the runway at Jose Marti International Airport. Firefighters rushed to extinguish the flames that engulfed the debris left where jet hit the ground in a cassava field.
Four crash survivors were taken to a Havana hospital, and three remained alive as of late Friday. State media reports stopped short of openly declaring that the rest on board were dead, but there was no word of other survivors by Friday night.