The New York Times
March 15, 2002

17 Killed in Cuba Plane Crash


              BAEZ, Cuba (AP) -- Authorities were pulling the bodies of 17 people -- including
              13 foreigners -- from a pond in rural central Cuba early Friday after the crash of a
              chartered Soviet-built biplane.

              The plane, a single-engine Antonov AN-2, went down Thursday afternoon in
              this small community just south of Santa Clara, the capital of Villa Clara
              province about 165 miles east of Havana.

              The cause of the crash was not immediately known.

              The victims were two Germans, six Canadians -- including a minor, five
              British citizens and four Cubans, an official from the International Press
              Center said Thursday night.

              A doctor answering the telephone in the emergency room of Santa Clara's
              Arnaldo Milan Castro Hospital, said he was among those who went to the
              crash site. The doctor, who did not give his name, confirmed the death toll
              and said there were no survivors.

              Farmer Ramon Sampiero said he was feeding his pigs Thursday afternoon
              when he saw the plane start to descend.

              ``I saw it fly very low, but did not hear it crash,'' Sampiero said early Friday.

              Another local resident, Ramona Montero, 36, said the craft was spinning as
              it went down. She also said she heard no explosion.

              Witnesses who rushed to the pond to investigate said they could see the
              plane's tail jutting out of the water. They said at least one piece of twisted
              steel from the craft had been pulled from the water, along with some luggage
              and shoes.

              About 120 police, firefighters, Communist Party officials and military officers
              including at least one general surrounded the area around the pond, blocking
              all access to the crash site Friday morning.

              Associated Press journalists saw seven funeral cars with caskets inside
              leaving the area around the pond about dawn.

              The AN-2 model, the world's largest biplane, was operated by a local
              charter company, Aerotaxi. The telephone at the company's Havana office
              rang unanswered early Friday.

              In the past, some AN-2 planes were used by Soviet paratroopers, but most
              were used as small passenger planes that traveled within the former Soviet

              Mia Yen, spokeswoman for Canada's Foreign Affairs Department in
              Ottawa, said late Thursday that Cuban authorities had told the Canadian
              Embassy in Havana that the plane was traveling from the central city of
              Cienfuegos to Cayo Coco, an exclusive resort in the keys stretching along
              the main island's northern coast.

              Yen said she could not confirm the number of Canadians killed, or their

              She said that Canadian Embassy officials in Havana, along with the Canadian
              Honorary Consul based in the beach resort of Varadero east of here, were
              in contact with Cuban authorities and preparing to travel to the crash site.