Cuba plane crash leaves more than 100 dead

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Media captionThe plane came down in a field near Havana's main airport

More than 100 people have died after a Boeing 737 airliner crashed near Cuba's main airport in Havana, the country's worst air disaster in decades.

Three women were pulled alive from the wreckage, but are said to be in a critical condition.

The plane, which was nearly 40 years old, was carrying 105 passengers and six crew members.

Cuban authorities have launched an investigation, and two days of national mourning have been declared.

The Boeing 737-201 crashed at 12:08 (16:08 GMT) on Friday, shortly after taking off from Havana on an internal flight to Holguin on the east of the island.

All six crew members on board were Mexican and the majority of the passengers were Cuban, with five foreigners reported to be among them.

"There has been an unfortunate aviation accident. The news is not very promising, it seems that there is a high number of victims," Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said after visiting the crash site.

How did the plane come down?

It's too early to say what caused the crash, but eyewitnesses on the ground describe seeing the jet burst into flames before crashing into a field close to a wooded area near Havana's main airport.

"I saw it taking off," supermarket worker Jose Luis told the AFP news agency. "All of a sudden, it made a turn, and went down. We were all amazed."

"We heard an explosion and then saw a big cloud of smoke go up," Gilberto Menendez, who runs a restaurant near the crash site, told Reuters.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Wreckage was spread over a large area

Mexico's transport department said on its website that "during take-off (the plane) apparently suffered a problem and dived to the ground".

Boeing said that it was ready to send a technical team to Cuba, "as permitted under US law and at the direction of the US National Transportation Safety Board and Cuban authorities". A US trade embargo has been in force against Cuba for many decades.

What do we know about the survivors?

Four people survived the crash but one died after being transported to hospital, the director of Havana's Calixto Garcia hospital, Carlos Alberto Martinez, told Reuters.

The three survivors are all women, according to Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma: one aged between 18 and 25, one in her thirties and the third aged 39.

"She is alive but very burnt," one of the women's relatives at the hospital told Reuters.

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Three women were pulled from the wreckage

Both the Argentine and Mexican governments have confirmed nationals from their countries were among the dead.

What do we know about the plane?

The plane had been leased to state airline Cubana de AviaciĆ³n by the Mexican company Aerolineas Damojh.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Crowds of shocked onlookers gathered at the crash site

The Mexican authorities said the plane was built in 1979 and had been successfully inspected last November. Mexico has said it was sending two civil aviation specialists to join the investigation.

Aerolineas Damojh, also known as Global Air, has three planes in operation.

How does it compare to recent plane crashes?

According to industry research, last year was the safest in history for commercial airline travel with no passenger jet crashes. But there have been several serious air disasters this year.

  • Last month, a military plane crashed shortly after take-off in Algeria, killing more than 250 people
  • In February, a Saratov Airlines plane crashed near Moscow, killing 71 people
  • In March, a US-Bangla Airlines flight crashed in Kathmandu, Nepal; 51 people died

Cuba's deadliest air crash was in 1989, when a Soviet-made Ilyushin-62M passenger plane crashed near Havana killing 126 people on board and another 24 people on the ground.

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