HAVANA (AP) — Recovery teams removed the last charred bodies from the wreckage of an airliner that went down in mountainous central Cuba, as officials vowed yesterday to get to the bottom of what caused the crash and said they have the capacity to do it alone.
All 68 people aboard AeroCaribbean Flight 883 were killed when the turboprop plane went down Thursday afternoon in a remote area near the village of Guasimal in Sancti Spiritus province. Twenty-eight foreigners were among the dead.
"The recovery of the mortal remains of the victims of the crash has ended," local state-run newspaper Escambray said. The bodies were brought by refrigerated truck to the medical examiner's office at a military site in the capital.
Chief investigator Rolando Diaz Vergal painted a grim scene of what rescue workers discovered at the crash site, saying those on board hardly had time to react as the plane plummeted to the ground.
"All the bodies are burned except for two that were in the back of the plane," Vergal told Escambray. "It seems the passengers had no time to react because the burned bodies are still in their own seats, which has helped us with the identifications."
Vergal said the crash scene smelled of death, with human remains strewn about.
In Guasimal, about 220 miles east of Havana, emergency vehicles lined a road about 2 miles from the site, and foreign journalists camped out there yesterday were not permitted to get any closer.
Photos taken by official media showed a large piece of the plane's fuselage largely intact, but other parts reduced to small fragments.
Authorities formed an investigative commission comprising solely Cubans.
Outside experts are commonly brought in to help probe air disasters, particularly when the planes involved were manufactured in Europe or America. The turboprop plane that went down was built in 1995 by Toulouse, France-based ATR, which said it stood prepared to help in any way with technical assistance.
"Cuba has all the necessary capacity to conduct the investigation," read a headline in the Communist Party-newspaper Granma.
Those killed included nine Argentines, seven Mexicans, and citizens of Germany, Holland, Spain and Italy. One Japanese national was also on board, and Australia's government said in a statement that Cuban officials confirmed two Australian women were on the plane.
Javier Figueroa, an official at the Argentine Embassy in Havana, said the mission was inundated with calls from worried relatives in his country. President Cristina Fernandez was readying a plane to ferry family members of the victims to Cuba, but it was not clear when it would arrive.
Mexico's foreign ministry said embassy personnel in Cuba went to the crash site, and were working with Cuban officials to help identify victims.
The twice-a-week AeroCaribbean flight goes from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to Santiago de Cuba to Havana.
The crash is the deadliest in Cuba since a chartered Cubana de Aviacion plane en route from Havana to Milan, Italy, went down shortly after takeoff in September 1989, killing all 126 people on board, as well as 24 people on the ground.