Cuban authorities on Saturday recovered a flight recorder from the Boeing 737 that crashed shortly after takeoff from the island’s capital Havana the day before, killing 110 of the 113 people aboard.
Cuba declared two days of national mourning for the victims of Friday’s crash as rescue workers intensified efforts to identify the victims of one of the country’s worst aviation disasters.
The Boeing 737-200 en route to the city of Holguín in eastern Cuba crashed soon after takeoff around noon local time Friday.
Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who supervised rescue efforts at the scene of the accident, ordered the creation of a commission to investigate the cause. His government also ordered flags flown at half-mast at public buildings and military institutions on Saturday and Sunday as part of the national mourning.
“The facts are being investigated and all the information will be given,” Mr. Díaz-Canel told state media.
Cuba’s transport minister, Adel Yzquierdo, told local media on Saturday that 110 people were killed of the 113 passengers and crew aboard. The airline that operated the flight had said the plane was carrying 104 passengers and six crew members.
Aviation authorities inspected the debris in search of clues of what could have caused the plane to crash and catch fire soon after taking off.
Investigators are likely to look initially into whether both engines were operating as expected and whether movable panels on the wings were deployed to help the plane climb during takeoff.
Mr. Yzquierdo, the transport minister, said the device recovered was in good condition and that he hoped that a second flight recorder would also soon be recovered. The flight recorders, known commonly as black boxes, keep flight data and cockpit communications and can help investigators determine the cause of accidents.
Mexican investigators are participating in the probe, as the aircraft, built in 1979, was leased by a Mexican charter airline to flagship carrier Cubana de Aviación, which has an aging fleet and has recently taken many of its planes out of service.
State media reported that most of the passengers were Cubans, except for about five and the Mexican crew. Argentina’s government said late Friday that two of its citizens died in the disaster. Mexican authorities said one passenger was a Mexican national.
Three women passengers were rescued and were reported in critical condition on Saturday at a hospital in Havana. Authorities identified the survivors as 19-year-old Mailén Díaz Almaguer and 39-year-old Emiley Sánchez de la O, both from Holguín, and 23-year-old Havana resident Gretel Landrovell Font.
Cuba’s Health Ministry set up an assistance center staffed by psychologists and professionals with experience in post-traumatic scenarios to support relatives of the victims. The Ministry of Tourism said it would guarantee accommodation in Havana for relatives of victims coming from Holguín.
A flight to carry relatives to Havana from Holguín was canceled late Friday because of poor weather conditions, and instead the relatives were instead taken in buses.
Gulfstream Air Charter, a Miami-based charter airline that flies to Cuba, is offering free transport to close relatives of victims of the disaster. Aldo Suárez, the company manager, said 11 people had contacted the company to fly to Cuba. The relatives are from Miami, Houston and Nebraska.
“It’s devastating for them,” Mr. Suárez said.
He said Gulfstream is working with the Cuban Embassy in Washington to facilitate entry to Cuba for relatives whose passports may not be in order.
He said the plane that crashed was ultimately going to Georgetown, Guyana, where the U.S. this year transferred the processing of visas of Cubans who want to emigrate to the U.S.
The U.S. cut much of the staffing at the Havana embassy in 2017 after a series of unexplained incidents raised health concerns among U.S. diplomats stationed there.
The crash comes after a period of record commercial aviation safety world-wide, with 2017 the first year in the age of modern aviation in which there wasn’t a single fatal accident involving a regularly scheduled passenger jetliner.
In Holguín, townsfolk were in shock as victims included more than 65 residents, local media reported. Many of them belonged to the Church of the Nazarene.
Carlos Sáenz, a regional director, said there were 10 Nazarene pastor couples among the passengers on board. They were returning home from a minister and spouses’ retreat, he said.
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