December 23, 1999

Castro speaks at funeral for 8 Cuban airline victims

                  HAVANA (AP) -- Cuban President Fidel Castro told mourners at Thursday's
                  funeral of eight Cubana Airlines crew members killed in Guatemala that the crew's
                  experience prevented a much larger disaster.

                  Castro made a surprise visit to the funeral, during which crew members were given full
                  military honors for burial at the Armed Forces section of Havana's Colon Cemetery.

                  Also in attendance was Vice President Carlos Lage and Esteban Lazo, first
                  secretary of Havana for the Communist Party of Cuba.

                  Although the cause of the accident remains under investigation, Castro said
                  that quick thinking by Capt. Jorge Toledo and co-pilot Cecilio Hernandez
                  assured that more people did not die.

                  Buried along with the captain and co-pilot on Thursday were fellow crew
                  members Pedro Pablo Concepcion, Herzio Jimenez, Jose Leyva, Moises
                  Borges and Ovidio Fonte, and Johanna Toledo, a stewardess and also the
                  capitan's daughter.

                  Castro said 18 people died in the crash: 15 on board the plane -- eight crew
                  members, two Guatemalan medical students and five other passengers --
                  and three on the ground.

                  The casualty reports from Guatemala have varied since the Tuesday
                  accident; the highest toll was 26.

                  The government-owned Cubana de Aviacion DC-10 jetliner had 314
                  people on board when it crashed Tuesday morning in the working class
                  neighborhood of La Libertad at the end of the runway. More than 70 people
                  were injured.

                  Most of those on board were Guatemalan medical students studying at
                  Havana's Latin American Medical School and returning home to spend
                  Christmas with their families.

                  Guatemalan airport officials at first said the plane skidded on the rain-soaked
                  runway. But air traffic director Mario Grajeda later said the plane appeared
                  to be approaching normally for landing on instruments, but overshot the

                  The plane's two black boxes -- the flight data and voice recorders -- will be
                  flown to Washington to be examined.

                  Cuban and French technicians will participate in the investigation. The plane
                  was rented from a French company.