Small Plane Crash Kills 17 in Cuba
Mar. 15, 2002
BAEZ, Cuba (AP) _ Authorities were pulling the bodies of 17 people _ including 13 foreigners _ from a pond in rural central Cuba early Friday after the crash of a chartered Soviet-built biplane.
The plane, a single-engine Antonov AN-2, went down Thursday afternoon in this small community just south of Santa Clara, the capital of Villa Clara province about 165 miles east of Havana.
The cause of the crash was not immediately known.
The victims were two Germans, six Canadians _ including a minor, five British citizens and four Cubans, an official from the International Press Center said Thursday night.
A doctor answering the telephone in the emergency room of Santa Clara's Arnaldo Milan Castro Hospital, said he was among those who went to the crash site. The doctor, who did not give his name, confirmed the death toll and said there were no survivors.
Farmer Ramon Sampiero said he was feeding his pigs Thursday afternoon when he saw the plane start to descend.
``I saw it fly very low, but did not hear it crash,'' Sampiero said early Friday.
Another local resident, Ramona Montero, 36, said the craft was spinning as it went down. She also said she heard no explosion.
Witnesses who rushed to the pond to investigate said they could see the plane's tail jutting out of the water. They said at least one piece of twisted steel from the craft had been pulled from the water, along with some luggage and shoes.
About 120 police, firefighters, Communist Party officials and military officers including at least one general surrounded the area around the pond, blocking all access to the crash site Friday morning.
Associated Press journalists saw seven funeral cars with caskets inside leaving the area around the pond about dawn.
The AN-2 model, the world's largest biplane, was operated by a local charter company, Aerotaxi. The telephone at the company's Havana office rang unanswered early Friday.
In the past, some AN-2 planes were used by Soviet paratroopers, but most were used as small passenger planes that traveled within the former Soviet Union.
Mia Yen, spokeswoman for Canada's Foreign Affairs Department in Ottawa, said late Thursday that Cuban authorities had told the Canadian Embassy in Havana that the plane was traveling from the central city of Cienfuegos to Cayo Coco, an exclusive resort in the keys stretching along the main island's northern coast.
Yen said she could not confirm the number of Canadians killed, or their identities.
She said that Canadian Embassy officials in Havana, along with the Canadian Honorary Consul based in the beach resort of Varadero east of here, were in contact with Cuban authorities and preparing to travel to the crash site.