UPDATE: Cuban president says many feared dead in plane crash

Friday, May 18, 2018

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HAVANA, Cuba — A Cuban state airways plane with 104 passengers on board crashed shortly after taking off Friday from Havana's Jose Marti airport, leaving a thick column of smoke over the scene.

The Boeing 737 operated by Cubana de Aviacion crashed in a field near the airport, and a column of acrid smoke was rising over the crash site, an AFP journalist at the scene said.

There were no initial reports of casualties on the ground.

Cuba's President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who went to visit the scene, said there was a "high number" of casualties.

"There has been an unfortunate aviation accident. The news is not very promising, it seems that there is a high number of victims," Diaz-Canel was quoted as saying shortly after visiting the scene.

Diaz-Canel said nine crew members were believed to have been on board, in addition to the passengers.

Airport sources said the jetliner was heading from the capital to the eastern city of Holguin.

State television said the airliner was operated by a foreign crew, but gave no details.

Reports said European airline Blue Panorama had been leasing a 737-400 plane to Cubana de Aviacion for several months.

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