Cuba in mourn­ing af­ter worst plane crash in nearly 30 years

Stabroek News Sunday - - REGIONAL NEWS -

HA­VANA, (Reuters) - Flags flew at half­mast in Cuba yes­ter­day mark­ing the start of two days of na­tional mourn­ing while au­thor­i­ties worked to iden­tify the corpses of 110 peo­ple who died in the crash of a Boe­ing 737 shortly af­ter take­off from Ha­vana.

Dis­tressed rel­a­tives of vic­tims of Fri­day’s crash, most of whom are Cuban, cried and hugged one another out­side the morgue, where they gave in­for­ma­tion on their loved ones to au­thor­i­ties to help the process of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Three women sur­vived the crash, the worst in Cuba in nearly 30 years, but they were in a crit­i­cal con­di­tion, suf­fer­ing burns and other trauma, the di­rec­tor of the hospi­tal in Ha­vana where they were be­ing treated said on Satur­day.

The nearly 40-year old plane had been car­ry­ing 105 pas­sen­gers plus crew mem­bers on a mid­day do­mes­tic flight to Hol­guin in eastern Cuba, Cuban state-run me­dia said. Two Ar­gen­tine cit­i­zens and an un­spec­i­fied num­ber of Mex­i­cans were among the dead, the Ar­gen­tine and Mex­i­can govern­ments said.

Cuban in­ves­ti­ga­tors were work­ing around the clock at the site of the crash, an agri­cul­tural area some 20 km (12 miles) south of Ha­vana, sift­ing through the burned wreckage for ev­i­dence, Cuban of­fi­cials said.

“This is a very un­ex­pected death, she didn’t de­serve it, my grand­mother was a strong per­son,” said Cuban 18-year old stu­dent Kather­ine Lu­cia Martinez, burst­ing into tears and cling­ing to her fa­ther.

Her 60-year old grand­mother was among the dead, and she was wait­ing with other rel­a­tives of the de­ceased at a Ha­vana ho­tel for an up­date from the au­thor­i­ties.

Pres­i­dent Miguel Diaz-Canel on Satur­day vis­ited the morgue where the vic­tims are be­ing iden­ti­fied. The crash is the first big test of his pres­i­dency af­ter tak­ing over of­fice from Raul Cas­tro just last month.

On Fri­day he also vis­ited the site of the crash.

Cuban spe­cial­ists have re­cov­ered one of the plane’s black boxes in “good con­di­tions,” the trans­port min­is­ter Adel Yzquierdo told Cuban state TV on Satur­day.

Some lo­cals said they saw the plane on fire be­fore it hit the ground.

“The plane was on fire, it flipped and then nose­dived,” said Marino Perez Al­varedo, a farmer.

The Mex­i­can trans­port depart­ment said on its web­site, “Dur­ing take-off (the plane) ap­par­ently suf­fered a prob­lem and dived to the ground.”

The Boe­ing 737-201 air­craft was built in 1979 and leased by Cuban air­line Cubana from a small Mex­i­can com­pany called Damojh, ac­cord­ing to the Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment.

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