68 Passengers Dead in Fatal Cuban Plane Crash

All 68 people on board were killed when a state airliner crashed in central Cuba on its way to Havana Thursday. The plane appeared to be one of the last carrying Cubans as well as European and Latin American tourists from Santiago ahead of the Hurricane Tomas.

AeroCaribbean Flight 883 lost contact with air traffic controllers just before 6 p.m. after making an emergency call and went down near the small town of Guasimal in the province of Sancti Spiritus. Thirty three passengers and the seven member crew were Cuban and the list of dead included nine Argentines, seven Mexicans, three Dutch citizens, two Germans, two Austrians, and one passenger each from France, Spain, Venezuela and Japan.

Pictures from the crash show the plane in flames; emergency vehicles parked along the road for two miles, but journalists were not allowed to get close to the wreckage site.

The cause of the crash, Cuba’s worst in 20 years and the third worst in its history, is not yet known, but witnesses told authorities that the plane made jerky motions before crashing. Argentina’s president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner flew relatives of the victims to the island, with hopes of bringing back any bodies found. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero sent condolences.

In Miami, the Cuban community is following the tragedy closely, via television and radio, and with some frustration: “It’s an absolute tragedy, so many lives lost,” said Omar Lopez Montenegro of the Cuban American National Foundation. “A lot of people wish they could be there to help and comfort and to us, that’s another type of tragedy.”

The Saturday night mass at La Ermita de la Caridad del Cobre, one of the most important churches for the Cuban community in Miami, will be dedicated to the victims of the plane crash.