HAVANA (CBSNEWS/AP) – A Cuban-operated airliner with at least 110 people on board crashed into a cassava field just after takeoff from Havana’s international airport on Friday. There appeared to be mass casualties as Cuban officials said three people had survived, but had yet to give an official toll.
Authorities said there were 104 passengers and nine foreign crew members on the flight that was headed to the eastern city of Holguin. Witnesses said they saw a thick column of smoke near the airport.
Witnesses said they saw a thick column of smoke near the airport.
“A column of black smoke rose up in the sky,” resident Ana Gonzalez told Reuters news agency.
The plane lay in a field of yuca-root plants and appeared heavily damaged and burnt. Firefighters were trying to extinguish its smoldering remains. Government officials including President Miguel Diaz-Canel rushed to the site, along with a large number of emergency medical workers. Residents of the rural area said they had seen some survivors being taken away in ambulances.
“My daughter is 24, my God, she’s only 24!” cried Beatriz Pantoja, whose daughter Leticia was on board the plane. Pantoja and other family members were rushed to a private area inside an airport terminal in the afternoon.
Cubana, the country’s national airline company, rented the plane from Blue Panorama, Cuban media reports. Mexican authorities say the Boeing 737-201 was built in 1979.
A statement from the country’s Transportation Department identifies the pilot and co-pilot as Capt. Jorge Luis Nunez Santos and first officer Miguel Angel Arreola Ramirez. It says the flight attendants were Maria Daniela Rios, Abigail Hernandez Garcia and Beatriz Limon.
It adds that the plane was rented by Cuban state carrier Cubana de Aviacion from Aerolineas Damojh. That’s the legal name of a small charter company that also goes by Global Air.
Relatives of passengers rushed to the scene, among them a man who said that his wife and niece had been on board. He declined to provide his full name before he was taken to an airline terminal where relatives were being asked to gather.
A military officer who declined to provide his name to reporters said that there appeared to have been only three survivors in critical condition, but other officials declined to confirm that figure.
Authorities are still gathering information about the crash and cannot confirm if Americans were on the flight or not, a U.S. State Department official said Friday.
“We offer our sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims. We cannot yet confirm whether U.S. Citizens were on board,” the official said in a statement.