A Boeing 737 passenger jet with more than 100 people aboard crashed in a huge fireball Friday after taking off on a domestic flight from Havana, Cuba, according to reports.
There were no immediate reports on casualties, but images from the scene showed widespread, smouldering wreckage surrounded by dozens of onlookers.
Residents of the rural area said they had seen some survivors being removed in ambulances.
State media outlets said the plane, which was headed to the eastern city of Holguin, crashed near a high school between the airport in southern Havana and the nearby town of Santiago de las Vegas.
The airliner was rented by Cubana de Aviacion, the country’s national airline, from Blue Panorama, according to Local 10.com.
Cuba’s ambassador in the US, José Ramón Cabañas, said in a social-media post that 104 passengers were on the flight, which went down about 12:30 p.m. near the Jose Marti International Airport.
Government officials including President Miguel Diaz-Canel rushed to the site, along with a large number of emergency medical workers and ambulances.
In the last few weeks, Cuba’s national carrier had to ground a number of its aging planes because of safety issues, according to CNN.
State media reported that there were three survivors in a critical condition after the Boeing 737 jet, which was en route from Jose Marti International Airport to the eastern Cuban city of Holguin, came down. The announcement puts the presumed number of dead at 101.
Flight CU972 was scheduled to depart at 11am local time (4pm BST) and land an hour and 20 minutes later.
But the jet failed to make its destination and came down close to its departure airport, crashing into a field and railway line.
Photos posted on social media showing a large plume of thick, black smoke rising from near the terminal buildings.
The aircraft involved is believed to be a Boeing 737-200 on loan from a Mexican airline, Global Aerolineas Damojh of Guadalajara.
The plane was 30 years old, and had flown for seven other airlines — starting with Southwest of the US in 1988, and including a spell with Air Kazakhstan.
Reports say it lost height shortly after take-off and crashed in woodland close to the airport.
Havana’s air hub is a short way southwest of the Cuban capital, and has pockets of population nearby as well as a major highway near one end of the runway.
There is concern that people on the ground may be among the casualties.
Residents of the rural area said they had seen some survivors being taken away in ambulances.
A military officer who declined to provide his name said there appeared to have been only three survivors in critical condition, but other officials declined to confirm that figure.
State TV said nine foreign crew were on board as well as the passengers while Cuba’s president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, said he feared that there would be many fatalities.
Residents of the rural site of the crash a short distance from the end of the runway told The Associated Press they saw some survivors being taken away in ambulances, and a military officer who declined to provide his name said there were three survivors in critical condition from the Cubana airlines flight.
“It’s a disaster,” the officer said.
State media also reported there were three survivors. Cuban officials did not explicitly say that everyone else on board had perished in the crash just after noon Friday.
“My daughter is 24, my God, she’s only 24!” cried Beatriz Pantoja, whose daughter Leticia was on board the plane. Pantoja and other family members were rushed to a private area inside an airport terminal in the afternoon.
Cubana has placed many of its planes out of service due to maintenance problems in recent months.
An employee who answered the phone at the Mexico City office of Aerolinea Global Air said that the Mexican crew included a pilot and a co-pilot. The employee asked his name not be used as the company had not yet made a formal statement. Websites offering the firm’s services say it flies to Cuba and operates several 737 planes.
Founded in 1990, the company operates under the legal name Aerolineas Damojh, SA de CV.
Firefighters rushed to extinguish flames engulfing the Boeing 737, which was meant to be on a short jaunt to the eastern Cuban city of Holguin when it went down just after takeoff from Jose Marti International Airport.
Government officials including President Miguel Diaz-Canel rushed to the site, along with a large number of emergency medical workers.
On Thursday, Cuban First Vice President Salvador Valdes Mesa met with Cubana officials to discuss improvements to its service. The airline is notorious for its frequent delays and cancellations, which Cubana blames on a lack of parts and airplanes due to the U.S. trade embargo on the island.
Friday’s crash was Cuba’s third major accident since 2010.
Last year a Cuban military plane crashed into a hillside in the western province of Artemisa, killing eight soldiers on board. In November 2010, an AeroCaribbean flight from Santiago to Havana went down in bad weather as it flew over central Cuba, killing all 68 people, including 28 foreigners, in what was the country’s worst air disaster in more than two decades.
The last accident involving a Cubana-operated plane was on Sept. 4, 1989, when a charter flight from Havana to Milan, Italy, went down shortly after takeoff, killing all 126 people on board, as well as at least two dozen on the ground.
Cubana’s director general, Capt. Hermes Hernandez Dumas, told state media last month that the airline’s domestic flights had carried 11,700 more passengers than planned between January and April 2018. It said 64 percent of flights took off on time, up from 59 percent the previous year.