Cuba

Mexican company says pilot error to blame for Cuba air crash that killed 112 people, but investigation is ongoing

Firefighters carry a body bag that contains human remains recovered at the site where a Boeing 737 plummeted into a yuca field with more than 100 passengers on board in Havana, Cuba, Friday, May 18, 2018. The Cuban airliner crashed just after take-off from Havana’s international airport.
Firefighters carry a body bag that contains human remains recovered at the site where a Boeing 737 plummeted into a yuca field with more than 100 passengers on board in Havana, Cuba, Friday, May 18, 2018. The Cuban airliner crashed just after take-off from Havana’s international airport. AP

Global Air, the Mexican company that leased a Boeing 737-200 involved in a March airplane crash in Cuba, says pilot error, rather than poor maintenance of the aircraft, caused the tragedy that killed 112 people.

The Cubana de Aviación flight, en route from Havana to Holguín in eastern Cuba, went down in an agricultural field on March 18 shortly after take-off from Havana’s José Martí International Airport. There was only one survivor, Mailén Díaz Almaguer, a 19-year-old Cuban who remains hospitalized.

In a statement issued Monday, Global Air said information obtained from the black boxes recovered from Flight 0972 allowed investigators to reconstruct the maneuvers of the crew up to the moment of the crash. “This data reveals that the crew took off with the aircraft in a very pronounced angle of ascent, creating a lack of support that led to the fall of the aircraft,” Global said.

But the Cuban commission investigating the crash said it still hasn’t completed its work. “A process of this magnitude requires an analysis of multiple factors and still hasn’t been concluded,” the commission said in a statement that was published Tuesday in state media. “Therefore any declaration about the possible causes that led to the fatal accident is premature.”

The black box that recorded voices from the cockpit and the plane’s flight data recorder were sent to the National Transportation Safety Board’s recorder lab for analysis.

The investigation, which is headed by Cuba’s Institute of Civil Aviation, also includes Mexico’s General Directorate of Civil Aeronautics, the NTSB and the Federal Aviation Administration as well as Boeing and Pratt Whitney, which manufactured the 39-year-old Boeing’s motor.

The NTSB said it sometimes takes a year to 18 months to determine the cause of a crash.

It was one of the worst aviation disasters in Cuban history.

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Three women shed tears after the identification of the victims of the Havana airplane crash at the Institute for Forensic Medicine on May 19, 2018, in Havana. Eliana Aponte DPA/Zuma Press/TNS

The plane, which was leased from Global Air (Damojh), had been in Cuba for less than a month before the crash, and the Mexican company was in charge of its maintenance. The pilots and other crew members, who all perished in the crash, were Mexican.

The same plane was barred from Guyanese air space last year due to dangerous overloading of luggage, and there had been speculation that poor maintenance may have contributed to the crash.

Global Air blamed two disgruntled former employees for spreading rumors that led to heightened scrutiny of the company. Mexico’s General Directorate of Civil Aviation suspended operations of the company and sent a team of 22 investigators that combed through company records from 27 days.

“Unbelievable declarations of two ex-employees that aren’t credible are made public, and what’s more, it’s irresponsible and even criminal that the captain of an aircraft would endanger his life and those of the passengers who use the service if the aircraft wasn’t in the appropriate conditions of security,” complained Manuel Rodríguez Campo, Global’s managing director.

Global said that the suspension of its operations and the “extraordinary technical administrative verification” process it underwent were both done “illegally.”

Follow Mimi Whitefield on Twitter: @HeraldMimi

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