A Cuban passenger plane with 68 people on board has crashed in the centre of the country.
A Cuban airliner flying from the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba to the capital crashed in a mountainous area after declaring an emergency Thursday evening with 68 people aboard, including 28 foreigners, state media reported. There was no immediate word on whether any survived.
AeroCaribbean Flight 883 went down near the village of Guasimal in Santi Spiritus province, carrying 61 passengers and a crew of seven, state television said. It said 28 passengers were foreigners, but did not give a breakdown of nationalities.
State media said the names of those on board would be released later.
Rescue workers were at the scene and had recovered the first bodies, according to the local state-run newspaper Escambray. It said they were also searching the rugged area for survivors.
A photo posted on the paper’s Web site showed a large piece of the plane in flames, with rescue workers in olive-green military uniforms standing around it. It said the local Communist Party chief as well as Interior Ministry and other officials were at the scene helping with the rescue effort.
The twice-a-week flight goes from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to Santiago de Cuba to Havana. It had been due to land in the Cuban capital at 7:50 p.m, but reported an emergency at 5:42 p.m. and subsequently lost contact with air traffic controllers.
State media said that the plane was an ATR-72 twin turboprop and that the crash site was not far from the Zaza reservoir, the largest in Cuba. It said authorities had mobilized doctors and emergency workers in the rural area, which is about 220 miles (350 kilometers) east of Havana.
At Havana’s national terminal, relatives of those on board the plane were kept isolated from other passengers and journalists.
“This is very sad,” said Caridad de las Mercedes Gonzalez, who was manning an airport information desk. “We are very worried. This has taken us by surprise.”
State media gave no details on what happened to the airliner, saying only that the cause of the crash was being investigated.
The flight would have been one of the last leaving Santiago de Cuba for Havana ahead of Tropical Storm Tomas, which was on a track to pass between Cuba’s eastern end and the western coast of Haiti on Friday. Cuban media said earlier that flights and train service to Santiago were being suspended until the storm passed.
AeroCaribbean is owned by Cuban state airline Cubana de Aviacion.
The last passenger plane crash on the island occurred in March 2002, when a Soviet-made biplane carrying 16 people – including 12 foreigners – plunged into a small reservoir in central Cuba. The plane was operated by a small local charter company called Aerotaxi.