More than 100 killed in passenger plane crash in Cuba

HAVANA, May 18 (Reuters) - More than 100 people were killed when a Boeing 737 crashed soon after taking off from Havana in what appeared to be Cuba's worst air disaster in nearly 30 years, and there were only three survivors, officials and state media said on Friday.

The passenger plane, on a domestic flight to Holguin in eastern Cuba, crashed at 12:08 p.m. (1608 GMT). There were 105 passengers, including five children, plus crew members, state media reported.

Five of the passengers and the crew were foreign, according to media reports. Two Argentine citizens and an unspecified number of Mexicans were among the dead, the Argentine and Mexican governments said.

President Miguel Diaz-Canel said in broadcast comments that a high number of people appeared to have been killed. He said the fire from the crash had been extinguished and authorities were identifying bodies.

Diaz-Canel said authorities were investigating the cause of the crash.

RELATED: Plane crashes near Jose Marti Airport in Havana, Cuba

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Plane crashes near Jose Marti Airport in Havana, Cuba
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Plane crashes near Jose Marti Airport in Havana, Cuba
Emergency personnel work at the site of the accident after a Cubana de Aviacion aircraft crashed after taking off from Havana's Jose Marti airport on May 18, 2018. - A Cuban state airways passenger plane with 113 people on board crashed on shortly after taking off from Havana's airport, state media reported. The Boeing 737 operated by Cubana de Aviacion crashed 'near the international airport,' state agency Prensa Latina reported. Airport sources said the jetliner was heading from the capital to the eastern city of Holguin. (Photo by Yamil LAGE / AFP) (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel (2-R, in khaki) is pictured at the site of the accident after a Cubana de Aviacion aircraft crashed after taking off from Havana's Jose Marti airport on May 18, 2018. - A Cuban state airways passenger plane with 104 passengers on board crashed on shortly after taking off from Havana's airport, state media reported. The Boeing 737 operated by Cubana de Aviacion crashed 'near the international airport,' state agency Prensa Latina reported. Airport sources said the jetliner was heading from the capital to the eastern city of Holguin. (Photo by Adalberto ROQUE / AFP) (Photo credit should read ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)
Emergency personnel work at the site of the accident after a Cubana de Aviacion aircraft crashed after taking off from Havana's Jose Marti airport on May 18, 2018. - A Cuban state airways passenger plane with 113 people on board crashed on shortly after taking off from Havana's airport, state media reported. The Boeing 737 operated by Cubana de Aviacion crashed 'near the international airport,' state agency Prensa Latina reported. Airport sources said the jetliner was heading from the capital to the eastern city of Holguin. (Photo by Yamil LAGE / AFP) (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel (L) arrives at the site of the accident after a Cubana de Aviacion aircraft crashed after taking off from Havana's Jose Marti airport on May 18, 2018. - A Cuban state airways passenger plane with 113 people on board crashed on shortly after taking off from Havana's airport, state media reported. The Boeing 737 operated by Cubana de Aviacion crashed 'near the international airport,' state agency Prensa Latina reported. Airport sources said the jetliner was heading from the capital to the eastern city of Holguin. (Photo by Yamil LAGE / AFP) (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
Picture taken 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. - A Cuban state airways passenger plane with 104 passengers on board crashed on shortly after taking off from Havana's airport, state media reported. The Boeing 737 operated by Cubana de Aviacion crashed 'near the international airport,' state agency Prensa Latina reported. Airport sources said the jetliner was heading from the capital to the eastern city of Holguin. (Photo by Adalberto ROQUE / AFP) (Photo credit should read ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)
Picture taken at the scene after a Cubana de Aviacion aircraft crashed after taking off from Havana's Jose Marti airport on May 18, 2018. - A Cuban state airways passenger plane with 104 passengers on board crashed on shortly after taking off from Havana's airport, state media reported. The Boeing 737 operated by Cubana de Aviacion crashed 'near the international airport,' state agency Prensa Latina reported. Airport sources said the jetliner was heading from the capital to the eastern city of Holguin. (Photo by Adalberto ROQUE / AFP) (Photo credit should read ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)
Emergency and rescue personnel are pictured while working at the site of the accident, after a Cubana de Aviacion aircraft crashed after taking off from Havana's Jose Marti airport on May 18, 2018. - A Cuban state airways passenger plane with 113 people on board crashed on shortly after taking off from Havana's airport, state media reported. The Boeing 737 operated by Cubana de Aviacion crashed 'near the international airport,' state agency Prensa Latina reported. Airport sources said the jetliner was heading from the capital to the eastern city of Holguin. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Forensic personnel are pictured at the site of the accident, after a Cubana de Aviacion aircraft crashed after taking off from Havana's Jose Marti airport on May 18, 2018. - A Cuban state airways passenger plane with 113 people on board crashed on shortly after taking off from Havana's airport, state media reported. The Boeing 737 operated by Cubana de Aviacion crashed 'near the international airport,' state agency Prensa Latina reported. Airport sources said the jetliner was heading from the capital to the eastern city of Holguin. (Photo by YAMIL LAGE / AFP) (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
Mercedes Lopez Acea (C), the First Secretary of the Communist party in Havana arrives at the site of the accident, after a Cubana de Aviacion aircraft crashed after taking off from Havana's Jose Marti airport on May 18, 2018. - A Cuban state airways passenger plane with 113 people on board crashed on shortly after taking off from Havana's airport, state media reported. The Boeing 737 operated by Cubana de Aviacion crashed 'near the international airport,' state agency Prensa Latina reported. Airport sources said the jetliner was heading from the capital to the eastern city of Holguin. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Emergency and rescue personnel, are pictured while working at the site of the accident, after a Cubana de Aviacion aircraft crashed after taking off from Havana's Jose Marti airport on May 18, 2018. - A Cuban state airways passenger plane with 113 people on board crashed on shortly after taking off from Havana's airport, state media reported. The Boeing 737 operated by Cubana de Aviacion crashed 'near the international airport,' state agency Prensa Latina reported. Airport sources said the jetliner was heading from the capital to the eastern city of Holguin. (Photo by YAMIL LAGE / AFP) (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
The site of the accident is cordoned off, after a Cubana de Aviacion aircraft crashed after taking off from Havana's Jose Marti airport on May 18, 2018. - A Cuban state airways passenger plane with 113 people on board crashed on shortly after taking off from Havana's airport, state media reported. The Boeing 737 operated by Cubana de Aviacion crashed 'near the international airport,' state agency Prensa Latina reported. Airport sources said the jetliner was heading from the capital to the eastern city of Holguin. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Picture taken 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. - A Cuban state airways passenger plane with 104 passengers on board crashed on shortly after taking off from Havana's airport, state media reported. The Boeing 737 operated by Cubana de Aviacion crashed 'near the international airport,' state agency Prensa Latina reported. Airport sources said the jetliner was heading from the capital to the eastern city of Holguin. (Photo by Adalberto ROQUE / AFP) (Photo credit should read ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)
#Breaking: Several witnesses tell me they saw bodies at wreckage site. Not much left of plane, they say. Cell phone… https://t.co/bCw3qnNO28
Emergency personnel at seen at the site of the accident after a Cubana de Aviacion aircraft crashed after taking off from Havana's Jose Marti airport on May 18, 2018. - A Cuban state airways passenger plane with 113 people on board crashed on shortly after taking off from Havana's airport, state media reported. The Boeing 737 operated by Cubana de Aviacion crashed 'near the international airport,' state agency Prensa Latina reported. Airport sources said the jetliner was heading from the capital to the eastern city of Holguin. (Photo by Adalberto ROQUE / AFP) (Photo credit should read ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)
Picture taken 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. - A Cuban state airways passenger plane with 104 passengers on board crashed on shortly after taking off from Havana's airport, state media reported. The Boeing 737 operated by Cubana de Aviacion crashed 'near the international airport,' state agency Prensa Latina reported. Airport sources said the jetliner was heading from the capital to the eastern city of Holguin. (Photo by Adalberto ROQUE / AFP) (Photo credit should read ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)
Picture taken 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. - A Cuban state airways passenger plane with 104 passengers on board crashed on shortly after taking off from Havana's airport, state media reported. The Boeing 737 operated by Cubana de Aviacion crashed 'near the international airport,' state agency Prensa Latina reported. Airport sources said the jetliner was heading from the capital to the eastern city of Holguin. (Photo by Adalberto ROQUE / AFP) (Photo credit should read ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)
Picture taken 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. - A Cuban state airways passenger plane with 104 passengers on board crashed on shortly after taking off from Havana's airport, state media reported. The Boeing 737 operated by Cubana de Aviacion crashed 'near the international airport,' state agency Prensa Latina reported. Airport sources said the jetliner was heading from the capital to the eastern city of Holguin. (Photo by Adalberto ROQUE / AFP) (Photo credit should read ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)
Picture taken 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. - A Cuban state airways passenger plane with 104 passengers on board crashed on shortly after taking off from Havana's airport, state media reported. The Boeing 737 operated by Cubana de Aviacion crashed 'near the international airport,' state agency Prensa Latina reported. Airport sources said the jetliner was heading from the capital to the eastern city of Holguin. (Photo by Yamil LAGE / AFP) (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
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. - A Cuban state airways passenger plane with 113 people on board crashed on shortly after taking off from Havana's airport, state media reported. The Boeing 737 operated by Cubana de Aviacion crashed 'near the international airport,' state agency Prensa Latina reported. Airport sources said the jetliner was heading from the capital to the eastern city of Holguin. (Photo by Yamil LAGE / AFP) (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
#Breaking: Just confirmed it’s a Blue Panorama plane rented by #Cubana, #Cuba’s national airline, headed to Holguin… https://t.co/qO5HCVs3tS
#Breaking: getting new info #plane #crashed either at high school campus or near it. It’s a national flight headed… https://t.co/hkkT0h64EK
#Breaking: Working to confirm but initial reports says #plane #crash site in #Boyeros neighborhood near José Marti… https://t.co/8rdwntFstW
#Breaking: #Cuban state run TV says @Boeing 737 crashed shortly after take off from José Marti International airpor… https://t.co/esr4jOXkIy
#UPDATE Cuban ambassador says 104 passengers on-board plane that crashed after takeoff from Havana… https://t.co/0tqDZdlr5X
CNN: Reports from Havana’s Jose Marti airport that there was a huge fireball after a Cubana airliner crashed during… https://t.co/aQ09Je9hBF
Our thoughts and prayers go out to our Caribbean neighbours in Cuba after a Boeing 737 passenger jet crashed this a… https://t.co/8RsZ0qWzlc
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Cuba declared an official period of mourning from 6 a.m. on May 19 to 12 p.m. on May 20, during which the flag would be flown at half-mast outside state and military institutions.

Former Cuban president Raul Castro, who now heads the country's ruling Communist Party, offered his condolences to the families of those who died in the crash as he recovered from a hernia operation, State media reported

This was the first time Cuba reported on a health issue for Castro, 86, who last month handed over the reins of power to his right-hand man Diaz-Canel.

Castro "who is recovering satisfactorily from a recent planned surgery to get rid of a hernia is staying up to date on the situation and has given the relevant guidance," the Communist Party newspaper Granma reported.

Blackened wreckage of Flight CU972 was strewn over the crash site, 20 km (12 miles) south of Havana.

"We heard an explosion and then saw a big cloud of smoke go up," said Gilberto Menendez, who runs a restaurant near the crash site in the agricultural area of Boyeros.

The flight's destination, Holguin, is the capital of a province popular with tourists for its pristine beaches.

Carlos Alberto Martinez, director of Havana's Calixto Garcia hospital, told Reuters that four victims of the crash had been were brought there and one died. Three others, all women, were in a serious condition, he said.

"She is alive but very burnt and swollen," said one of the women's relatives at the hospital.

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.

Damojh in Mexico said it did not immediately have any more information. Cubana declined to comment.

Mexico said it would send a team of investigators from its Directorate General of Civil Aeronautics on Saturday. Most aircraft accidents take months to investigate.

A U.S. State Department official said the agency was not aware of any request for U.S. assistance at this time, but the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration had offered to assist in the investigation.

The State Department has spoken with the Cuban ambassador to offer condolences, the official said.

Boeing Co said in a statement that its technical team stood "ready to assist as permitted under U.S. law and at the direction of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and Cuban authorities." The United States has a decades-old trade embargo on the island.

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Daily life in and around Cuba
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Daily life in and around Cuba
A vintage car decorated with a Cuban flag and carrying tourists waits in line to fill up with fuel at a gas station along the seafront boulevard "El Malecon" in Havana, January 12, 2015. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini (CUBA - Tags: TRANSPORT BUSINESS COMMODITIES ENERGY SOCIETY TRAVEL)
Tourists from Colombia look at posters in a street arts fair in Havana, February 20, 2016. Picture taken February 20, 2016. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
Yalis, a 5-year old dog, barks at his owner as he jumps into the sea at the seafront Malecon in Havana, March 16, 2016. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
A taxi driver drives a vintage car in downtown Havana, January 16, 2015. The United States rolled out a sweeping set of measures on Thursday to significantly ease the half-century-old embargo against Cuba, opening up the country to expanded travel, trade and financial activities. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini (CUBA - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY TRANSPORT)
Bici taxi driver Yosvani Gomes, 39, lifts the curtains of his vehicle after a rain in downtown Havana January 20, 2015. Cuba will tell the United States in face-to-face talks this week it wants to be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism before restoring diplomatic relations, a senior foreign ministry official said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini (CUBA - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY)
Yiliana Benitez, 33, works at the H. Upmann cigar factory in Havana, February 26, 2015. Cuban cigar-maker Habanos S.A. envisions gaining 25 percent to 30 percent of the U.S. premium cigar market if the United States lifts its trade embargo on Cuba, potentially selling 70 million to 90 million cigars per year, the company said on Monday. The prospect of the United States lifting is 53-year-old embargo improved after the United States and Cuba announced on December 17 their intention to restore diplomatic relations. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini (CUBA - Tags: BUSINESS COMMODITIES)
Cowboy Ariel Peralta (C), 25, watches a rodeo show at the International Livestock Fair in Havana March 22, 2015. Picture taken March 22. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. artists and art curators who came to visit the 12th Havana Biennial walk in downtown Havana, May 29, 2015. The United States formally dropped Cuba from a list of state sponsors of terrorism on Friday, an important step toward restoring diplomatic ties but one that will have limited effect on removing U.S. sanctions on the Communist-ruled island. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
Cuba's Capitol, or El Capitolio as it is called by Cubans, is seen in Havana, July 1, 2015. The United States and Cuba on Wednesday formally agreed to restore diplomatic ties that had been severed for 54 years, fulfilling a pledge made six months ago by the former Cold War enemies. U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro exchanged letters agreeing to reopen embassies in each other's capitals, with the Cubans saying that could happen as soon as July 20. The Capitolio, which resembles the U.S. Capitol in Washington, was built in 1929 and was the seat of the government until after the 1959 revolution. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
Tourists take pictures of a statue representing the Republic at Cuba's Capitol, or El Capitolio as it is called by Cubans, in Havana July 9, 2015. Cubans are once again touring their Capitol, an imposing structure previously shunned as a symbol of U.S. imperialism but now undergoing renovation and set to reopen as the new home of the Communist government's National Assembly. Picture taken July 9, 2015. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
Dancer Cristian Perez, 20, (R) and informatics student Ariana Dexido, 17, dance near the sea in Havana, Cuba, July 12, 2015. Picture taken July 12, 2015. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Mechanic and salsa dance instructor Ariel Domninguez, 26, (L), gives a class to Jarman Frash, 25, a medical student from Germany in Havana, February 4, 2015. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Tourists dance during a salsa class at the beach in Varadero, Cuba, August 26, 2015. Cubans are flocking to the beach in record numbers before a possible end to the U.S. travel ban that would open the gates to American tourists and bump up prices. Picture taken on August 26, 2015. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
Retiree Madeline Barcelo swims at the beach with her granddaughter in Varadero, Cuba, August 26, 2015. Cubans are flocking to the beach in record numbers before a possible end to the U.S. travel ban that would open the gates to American tourists and bump up prices. Picture taken August 26, 2015. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Human resources worker Carmen Oivedo (R) talks to her daughters during their vacations at the beach in Varadero, Cuba, August 26, 2015. Cubans are flocking to the beach in record numbers before a possible end to the U.S. travel ban that would open the gates to American tourists and bump up prices. Picture taken on August 26, 2015. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
Cuban tourists sail in a rented sailboat at the beach in Varadero, Cuba, August 26, 2015. Cubans are flocking to the beach in record numbers before a possible end to the U.S. travel ban that would open the gates to American tourists and bump up prices. Picture taken on August 26, 2015. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
Pre-university students walk in downtown Havana to mark the first day of class for the 2015-2016 course, September 1, 2015. Universal free education is one of the pillars of the socialist society built in Cuba since Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
Cuban soldiers hold flags of Cuba and Youth Communist league during a ceremony in Havana November 27, 2014, marking the anniversary of the deaths of student leaders killed during the fight against Spanish colonial rule. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini (CUBA - Tags: ANNIVERSARY POLITICS MILITARY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
A picture of former Cuban President Fidel Castro is seen inside a post office in Havana, December 11, 2015. Cuba and the U.S. have agreed to restore direct postal service after a half-century rupture in one of the first bilateral deals since the former Cold War foes re-established diplomatic ties in July. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
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Boeing 737 aircraft use engines made by CFM International, supplier of the world's most-used engines, built by a joint venture of GE and France's Safran.

On Thursday, Cuba's First Vice President Salvador Valdés Mesa met with Cubana bosses to discuss public complaints about its service, according to state-run media, including numerous cancellations of domestic flights this year and long delays.

Earlier this month, the company was ordered to suspend flights of its six Russian built AN-158 aircraft, of which most had reportedly already been grounded, according to state-run media.

The last fatal crash in Cuba was in 2017, the Aviation Safety Network said. It was a military flight and all eight on board were killed. In 2010, a commercial Aero Caribbean plane crashed in centralCuba and all 68 people on board were killed.

In the worst Cubana disaster, a Soviet-made Ilyushin-62M passenger plane crashed near Havana in 1989 killing all 126 people on board. (Reporting by Sarah Marsh, Nelson Acosta and Marc Frank in Havana Additional reporting by Anthony Esposito, Julia Love, Christine Murray, Dave Graham and Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico, and Lesley Wroughton in Washington Writing by Rosalba O'Brien Editing by Grant McCool, Toni Reinhold)

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