A commercial airliner carrying more than 100 people crashed Friday afternoon shortly after takeoff from Cuba’s main airport, Cuban state-run media reported.
While details about the Cubana de Aviacion flight or potential fatalities were not immediately known, a witness told NBC News that three people were pulled alive from the wreckage and transported out. State media reported three survivors were in critical condition.
The accident occurred at 12:08 p.m. ET, Cuba’s ambassador to the U.S., José Ramón Cabañas, said on Twitter. After takeoff, the aircraft “rushed ashore” in an unpopulated area between the Boyeros and San Antonio de las Vegas areas of Havana, he tweeted.
The wreckage was in a large yuca field that is part of a government-owned farm. Photos from the scene show thick smoke billowing into the air, and firefighters and rescue crews attending to the crash site.
-Emergency services arrive at the scene of the accident after a Cubana de Aviacion aircraft crashed after taking off from Havana’s Jose Marti airport on May 18, 2018.Yamil Lage / AFP – Getty Images
The Boeing 737 was headed for the eastern Cuban city of Holguín, according to Prensa Latina, a Cuban state-run news agency. Cuban authorities said the airplane was rented by Cubana de Aviacion and leased from Global Air, part of Aerolíneas Damojh SA, a Mexican airline out of Guadalajara.
Relatives of passengers rushed to the scene, among them was a man who told The Associated Press 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 congregate.
Cubana has taken many of its aging planes out of service in recent months due to mechanical problems. Cuba’s first vice-president, Salvador Valdes Mesa, met Thursday with Cubana officials to discuss improvements in its heavily criticized service. The airline is well-known among Cubans for its frequent delays and cancellations, which Cubana blames on a lack of parts and airplanes due to the U.S. trade embargo on the island.
The crash Friday was Cuba’s third major fatal accident since 2010.
Last year, a Cuban military plane crashed into a hillside in the western province of Artemisa, killing eight troops on board. In November 2010, an AeroCaribbean flight from Santiago to Havana went down in bad weather as it flew over central Cuba, killing all 68 people aboard, including 28 foreigners, in what was Cuba’s worst air disaster in more than two decades.
The last Cubana accident appears to have been on Sept. 4, 1989, when a chartered Cubana plane flying from Havana to Milan, Italy, went down shortly after takeoff, killing all 126 people on board, as well as at least two dozen on the ground.
Cubana’s director general, Capt. Hermes Hernandez Dumas, told state media last month that Cubana’s domestic flights had carried 11,700 more passengers than planned from January to April. It said that 64 percent of flights had taken off on time, up from 59 percent the previous year.
“Among the difficulties created by the U.S. trade embargo is our inability to acquire latest-generation aircraft with technology capable of guaranteeing the stability of aerial operations,” Hernandez said. “Another factor is obtaining parts for Cubana’s aircraft.”