U.S. and Mexican aviation experts are joining an investigation of the crash of a Boeing 737 charter flight outside Havana that killed more than 100 people, Cuban authorities said, as allegations emerged that the airline had previously been warned about safety violations.
Cuban authorities have identified the remains of 20 of the 110 victims of Friday’s crash while a team of local and foreign investigators focused on the possible causes of the disaster and the operations of the Mexican company that owned the plane, which crashed shortly after takeoff on a flight to the eastern Cuban city of Holguín.
The only survivors of Friday’s crash, three women passengers, are in critical condition at the Calixto García Hospital in central Havana, while the remains of the first identified victims were being delivered to relatives in Holguín, authorities said.
The Boeing 737-200 crashed in a field and burst into flames shortly after taking off from the Havana airport on Friday. Cuba’s transport minister, Adel Yzquierdo, said 110 of the 113 passengers and crew were killed.
Authorities said five children were among the victims identified over the weekend, and that identification of the dead could take days.
Cuban officials said that following a request from U.S. authorities, a team from Boeing Co. would be permitted to join the investigation. Boeing has said a technical team stood ready to assist at the direction of U.S. and Cuban authorities.
Cuban personnel work Sunday amid the debris of the plane crash that killed 110 people in Havana. Photo: Marcelino Vazquez/EPA/Shutterstock
Mexican investigators are already participating in the probe because the aircraft, built in 1979, was leased by Mexican charter airline Aerolíneas Damojh to flagship carrier Cubana de Aviación, which has an aging fleet and has recently taken many of its planes out of service.
“We will provide all the necessary assistance so they can do their job,” Mr. Yzquierdo told Cuban state media.
Damojh was responsible for maintenance and operation of the aircraft, Mr. Yzquierdo said. “We had rented this plane less than a month ago. We keep all the documentation which shows that the crew was certified and fit,” he added.
Mr. Yzquierdo said Cubana de Aviación was leasing aircraft from foreign companies in part because the U.S. embargo against the Communist island hindered the state-owned carrier’s ability to buy planes.
The Mexican government said it would carry out a new audit of the airline’s operations to determine if it was meeting regulations, and to gather information that could help identify the cause of the crash.
The airline was inspected in November and found to be following proper maintenance procedures, the Communications and Transport Ministry said on Friday. Before the crash, Damojh, set up in 1990, had three planes, two Boeing 737-300s and the 737-200.
Marco Aurelio Hernández, a pilot who worked for Damojh from 2005 to 2013, told Mexico’s Milenio newspaper that he had repeatedly reported maintenance problems to the owner, including engine trouble and electrical system failure. Airline officials declined to comment on the assertion.
Mr. Hernández said he had worked before with Jorge Luis Núnez, the captain on Friday’s ill-fated flight.
Guyana’s director of civil aviation, Egbert Field, told the Associated Press that the plane that crashed had been barred from the South American country’s airspace last year because its crews had been allowing overloading of luggage on flights to Cuba.
Authorities on Saturday recovered a flight recorder from the destroyed aircraft. Its charred debris was scattered across a field near Santiago de las Vegas, a rural village some 12 miles south of Havana’s city center.
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 recovered cockpit recording device was in good condition and that he hoped 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.
The cockpit-voice recorder is the least important of the recorders on the plane, according to experts. The flight-data recorder, which captures pilot commands and operation of onboard systems including engines, is more likely to provide relevant clues. Initial readouts of black boxes in good condition takes only hours in the U.S., but could take longer elsewhere, or if they are damaged.
The data are likely to show if both engines were working, how fast the plane was flying and whether the sharp turn reported by authorities shortly before the plane crashed was commanded.
—Andy Pasztor contributed to this article.
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Appeared in the May 21, 2018, print edition as ‘Mexico, Boeing Join Probe Of Deadly Cuba Plane Crash.’