Cuba

Sole survivor of one of Cuba’s deadliest plane crashes faces arduous road to recovery

Forensic investigators sift through remains of a Boeing 737-200 that plummeted into a yucca field with more than 100 passengers on board, in Havana, Cuba, Friday, May 18, 2018. The Cuban airliner crashed just after takeoff from Havana’s international airport. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)
Forensic investigators sift through remains of a Boeing 737-200 that plummeted into a yucca field with more than 100 passengers on board, in Havana, Cuba, Friday, May 18, 2018. The Cuban airliner crashed just after takeoff from Havana’s international airport. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan) AP

Mailén Díaz Almaguer, the sole survivor of the May 18 plane crash in Havana, suffered paralysis of both legs and has been transferred to the Hermanos Ameijeiras hospital in Havana for further treatment and therapy, according to Cuba media reports.

Esteban Reyes, the primary physician of Intensive and Emergency Medicine at the Calixto García hospital, told the state-run newspaper Juventud Rebelde that Díaz Almaguer suffered severe injuries and burns that stretched from her spine to the lower limbs. The injuries required frequent treatments and drainage.

Díaz Almaguer, whose recovery had not been publicly shared, experienced a series of major medical complications. But “the worst is over,” Dr. Reyes told the newspaper.

The young woman had to have her left leg amputated at the knee. She also underwent a tracheotomy, making speech impossible, so doctors learned to read her lips. Díaz Almaguer also suffers from a syndrome that is known as “fragmented memory.”

She does not remember everything that happened. She thought she had been in a car, not a Boeing 737-200 that was flying from Havana to Holguín before it fell shortly after takeoff. The plane, which belonged to the Mexican company Global Air, was chartered by Cubana de Aviación airline for the domestic flight.

A new video released on social media shows a large explosion after a plane came crashing down in Havana, Cuba on Friday, May 18, 2018.

Díaz Almaguer was one of three initial survivors transported to the Calixto García hospital following the crash. Gretell Landrove Font, 23, and Emiley Sánchez De la O, 40, died days later, raising the death toll from the accident to 112 of the 113 aboard the flight. The tragedy left the quiet city of Holguín utterly grief-stricken.

Three months after Cuba’s worst air disaster in decades, the official cause of the accident remains unclear. Global Air, owner of the airplane, had attributed the crash to pilot error. But Cuban investigators called the claim mere “speculations.”

The two black boxes recovered from the fiery crash were sent to Washington, D.C., to be analyzed at the National Transportation Safety Board’s recorder lab.

The incident sullied the reputation of Cubana de Aviación, a state-owned airline whose performance has plummeted since the end of subsidies from the former Soviet Union to the island.

Cubana acknowledged last June that it canceled five national routes and reduced flight frequencies due to the lack of airplanes. Several employees of Global Air reported that the conditions in which the company worked were unsafe and that the crash was a disaster waiting to happen.

Follow Mario J. Pentón on Twitter: @mariojose_cuba
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