20 evangelical priests among those killed in Cuban plane crash

On Saturday, flags flew at half-mast in Cuba, marking the start of two days of national mourning.
Relatives of victims of the Boeing 737 plane that crashed after taking off from Havana's main airport yesterday, react as they leave the Legal Medical Institute in Havana, Cuba, on May 19, 2018.Alexandre Meneghini / Reuters
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By Kalhan Rosenblatt and The Associated Press

Twenty evangelical priests are among more than 100 people killed when a plane crashed outside of Havana on Friday, according to The Associated Press.

“On that plane were 10 couples of pastors. 20 people. All of the Nazarene Church in the eastern region,” confirmed Maite Quesada, a member the Cuban Council of Churches.

The group spent several days at a meeting in the capital and were returning to their homes and places of worship in the province of Holguin.

On Saturday afternoon, the AP cited Cuba's Transportation Minister Adel Yzquierdo as saying that 110 people were killed in the accident. The minister said authorities were investigating the cause of the crash.

"We have the black box in our hands, in good condition," he said, according to Reuters.

Friday's crash, the worst in Cuba in nearly 30 years, happened at 12:08 p.m. ET, José Ramón Cabañas, the Cuban ambassador to the U.S., said on Twitter. After takeoff, the aircraft "rushed ashore" in an unpopulated area between the Boyeros and San Antonio de las Vegas areas of Havana, he tweeted.

Six crew members and a baby were also on board the flight, Cuban TV said.

On Saturday, flags flew at half-mast in Cuba, marking the start of two days of national mourning while authorities worked to identify the remains of those who died in the crash.

A Cuban state airways passenger plane crashed shortly after taking off from Havana's airport on May 18, 2018, 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.Adalberto Roque / AFP - Getty Images

Distressed relatives of victims, most of whom are Cuban, cried and hugged one another outside the morgue, where they gave information on their loved ones to authorities to help the process of identification.

Three women survived the crash, but they were in critical condition, suffering burns and other trauma, the director of the hospital in Havana where they were being treated said on Saturday.

Calixto Garcia Hospital director Carlos Alberto Martinez said that doctors are always hopeful that their patients will recover, but acknowledged that the women are very seriously injured.

Cuban investigators were working the site of the crash, an agricultural area south of Havana, sifting through the burned wreckage for evidence, Cuban officials said.

Katherine Lucia Martinez, 18, whose grandmother died in the crash, burst into tears as she spoke about the accident.

"This is a very unexpected death, she didn't deserve it, my grandmother was a strong person," Martinez said while clinging to her father.

Martinez was waiting with other relatives of the deceased at a Havana hotel for an update from the authorities.

"My son, that was my life. I don't want to think of it. I was talking to him before the flight and I told him, 'Be good, eat, enjoy, take care of yourself,' and he said, "Yes, mother, yes, yes.' He was with his wife, very happy," said Ana Aviles Gomez whose son died in the plane crash.

"My daughter is 24," cried Beatriz Pantoja, whose daughter Leticia was also on the plane. "My God, she's only 24!"

The majority of those on board were Cuban nationals, but Argentina said two of its citizens were among the dead. An unspecified number of Mexican nationals were also on board, the Mexican government said. A U.S. State Department official said the department was not aware of any U.S. citizens on board.