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Cuban airplane crashes shortly after takeoff from Havana airport

Passenger plane crashes in Havana, Cuba. (CBC News/YouTube)

Cuban state media reported that a Boeing 737 on a domestic flight crashed in a rural area Friday afternoon shortly after takeoff from Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport.

There were reportedly 104 passengers plus crew aboard the plane that was leased by Cubana de Aviacion, the Cuban national airline, from a Mexican company. At least three survivors were transported to a nearby hospital. Granma, the Communist Party newspaper, reported the three were in critical condition.

There were no immediate reports on casualties but The Associated Press reported that residents of the rural area where the plane crashed soon after takeoff said they had seen some survivors being transported in ambulances.

Aviation sources said the plane was traveling from Havana to Holguin, in eastern Cuban, when it went down about 1 1/2 miles from the Havana airport in the Rancho Boyeros suburb.

Miguel Diaz-Canel, Cuba’s recently appointed president, headed to the scene after receiving word of the crash.

“The news is not very hopeful,” he said.

Firefighters were on the scene battling the blaze as billows of black smoke shot skyward, images showed. The airport was closed shortly after the crash, leaving several flights from Havana to Miami on hold, but reopened Friday afternoon.

The flight, DMJ 0972, took off shortly after noon before crashing at 12:08 p.m., according to 14ymedio, an independent digital outlet in Cuba. Ambulances, fire trucks, and cars from Cuba’s Instituto de Medicina Legal could be seen speeding down Havana’s central Avenue of Independence, tweeted journalist Yoani Sanchez.?

Roberto Pena Samper, president of Corporacion de la Aviacion Cubana, said the aircraft was the property of a Mexican company and had been leased by Cubana de Aviacion.

Although the plane was leased, Cubana de Aviacion’s aging fleet has faced safety issues in the past.

Just Thursday, the Cuban National Aviation Authority grounded Cubana de Aviacion’s Antonov AN-158 fleet due to technical issues. According to Airline Geeks, the airline operated up to six of the Ukrainian aircraft, which had repeated maintenance issues. As of April, only one of the planes was still in operation.

The Associated Press reported that Cuban First Vice President Salvador Valdes Mesa met Thursday with officials from the airline to discuss improvement in Cubana’s service in the face of strong criticism.

In April 2017, a Cuban military plane crashed in Artemisa province and eight people died. The plane was an AN-26.

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© 2018 Miami Herald

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.