Explosion shook ground: Witnesses

HAVANA (Cuba) • It happened in the tropical lull that is Havana's midday, usually a time for lunch and rest. A tremendous noise broke the calm: the crash of a passenger aircraft that had just taken off from the capital's airport.

"The explosion shook everything," recounted Mr Yasniel Diaz, who was near the airport and saw the plane fall to the ground.

The cause of the crash is yet to be determined, but Mr Diaz, a 21-year-old musician who had spent the night on a nearby farm, said: "I was going home and I saw the plane and the pilot was flying to the right, he lost altitude and went down."

When the explosion happened on impact, "I started running because I felt scared. Then I saw people coming from a village to help," he said.

Ms Rocio Yoselis Martínez González, 21, a manicurist, was in her front yard when the plane made its odd turn. She said that it was low and descending, barely clearing the wooden telephone poles on her street.

As it roared overhead, Ms Martínez saw that one of its engines was on fire. The tremor from the impact and explosion was so strong that it shook the ground and knocked decorative objects off her shelves, she said. "I was in shock," she recalled. "They show things like this in a movie..."

Mr Yosvany Sarmientos was riding a bicycle with his son 2km from the crash site. "I felt the boom and saw smoke rising. I told him, 'Look son, that's a plane that's crashed'," he said.

Dr Alicia Leon, a doctor with emergency experience, went running and managed to tend to one of the survivors. "I saw our doctors from the clinic going there quickly. I arrived to intubate a survivor, a woman... We got there right away."

Mr Yusniel Leon's father-in-law had boarded the plane. "We don't know if he's among the survivors," the 22-year-old mechanic said in shock. "Our souls have plummeted."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 20, 2018, with the headline 'Explosion shook ground: Witnesses'. Print Edition | Subscribe