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Cuba says plane crash killed all 68 on board

GUASIMAL, Cuba (Reuters) - All 68 people on board a Cuban Aero Caribbean passenger plane were killed, including 28 foreigners, when it crashed in a central province on Thursday after issuing an emergency call, authorities said on Friday.

"There were no survivors in the plane," the government website www.cubadebate.cu said. "Its 68 passengers, including seven crew members, died when the aircraft crashed."

Rescuers began pulling bodies from the wreckage after using a bulldozer to plow through thick vegetation to reach the crash site near the town of Guasimal in Sancti Spiritus province, about 210 miles southeast of the capital Havana,

The Cubadebate website published a list of the 40 Cubans and 28 foreigners from 10 countries who were on board. The foreigners, many thought to be tourists, were almost all South Americans and Europeans, and also included one Japanese.

The website posted a photograph showing flames rising from the shattered remains of the plane -- an ATR-72-212 twin turboprop built by ATR, a joint venture of Europe's EADS and Italian group Finmeccanica.

Authorities cordoned off the crash site and did not allow reporters to approach. A refrigerated truck and another carrying body bags were seen entering the area, witnesses said.

Aero Caribbean is a state-owned regional airline. According to www.planespotters.net, the plane that crashed was one of the youngest in its fleet, at 15 years old.

The plane's manufacturer ATR also confirmed there were no survivors among the 61 passengers and crew of seven on board. "At this time, the reasons of the accident are still unknown," ATR said in a statement, adding it was cooperating with Cuban aviation authorities in the investigation.

It said Aero Caribbean had operated the plane since October 2006. It was delivered from the production line in 1995 and had accumulated almost 25,000 flight hours in more than 34,500 flights, ATR said.


Witnesses said the plane made "several brusque movements before falling to the ground,", the Cuban newspaper Escambray reported in its online edition.

"There's nothing more to do ... there is no survivor," a source at Guasimal's hospital told Reuters.

The foreign victims included nine Argentines. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez was sending a plane with relatives of the victims to bring home the bodies, an Argentine diplomat in Havana told Reuters.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero also sent condolences.

The plane, Flight 883, left Santiago de Cuba in eastern Cuba en route to Havana and went down at 5:42 p.m. local time (6:42 p.m. EDT). After making an emergency call, the plane lost contact with air traffic controllers.

Medical facilities in the Guasimal were put on alert to prepare for emergency patients. But by midnight they were told to stand down because no survivors were expected.

It was Cuba's worst air disaster since September 3, 1989 when a Soviet-made Ilyushin-62 crashed after taking off from Havana airport en route to Italy, killing all 126 people on board.

In the last significant air accident in Cuba, Canadian, British and German tourists were among 16 people killed when a single-engine Russian-made Antonov-2 biplane crashed into a reservoir in central Villa Clara province in March, 2002.

(Reporting by Marc Frank, Esteban Israel, Rosa Tania Valdes and Nelson Acosta; Writing by Jeff Franks; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Anthony Boadle)