Mexican Airline Blames Deadly Cuba Plane Crash on Deceased Pilots

Jul 17, 2018

The Mexican company that leased the aircraft involved in one of the deadliest plane crashes in Cuba’s history is blaming the tragedy on the two deceased pilots rather than maintenance issues on the 39-year-old Boeing 737-200.

Global Air, the Mexican airline that wet leased the 737 to Cuba’s national flag carrier, Cubana de Aviación, said on Monday that the crash near Havana’s Jose Marti Airport (HAV) in May happened because the pilots’ takeoff angle was too steep. Using data from the aircraft’s black boxes, Global Air says it reconstructed the crew’s movements preceding the crash.

“This data reveals that the crew took off with the aircraft in a very pronounced angle of ascent, creating a lack of support that led to the fall of the aircraft,” Global Air said in a statement carried by the Miami Herald.

“Lack of support” isn’t a technically correct term, but in this case most likely refers to a lack of lift caused by a steep takeoff in a heavily loaded airplane, creating a condition called an aerodynamic stall, which can result in a crash if it happens near the ground.

Flight 0972 was carrying 113 people from HAV to Holguín (HOG) on the eastern side of Cuba when it went down in a field shortly after takeoff, killing 112 passengers. Initially, three people survived, but two passengers later succumbed to their injuries in the hospital. The lone survivor, 19-year-old Mailén Díaz Almaguer, remains hospitalized.

A parallel investigation into the crash is being led by Cuba’s Institute of Civil Aviation and assisted by Mexico’s General Directorate of Civil Aeronautics, as well as Boeing, the engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney and two US aviation bodies: the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board. Findings from that investigation have not yet been released. The black boxes and flight data recorder have been sent for further analysis to the NTSB, which says that it can take up to 18 months to determine the cause of a plane crash.

The Boeing 737-200 involved in the crash was built in 1979. The aircraft had previously received safety complaints during other wet-lease operations and had been put under investigation. Under the wet-lease agreement, Global Air (officially named Damojh Airlines) was fully responsible for the plane’s maintenance.

One such safety complaint resulted in the aircraft being banned from Guyanese airspace in 2017 after the  crew had repeatedly overloaded luggage exceeding the safety regulation on flights to Cuba, Guyana aviation officials told the AP.

Following the Havana crash, Mexico’s National Civil Aviation Authority suspended Damojh’s operations and put it under an operational audit to ensure its “current operating conditions continue meeting regulations” and help gather additional information for investigators in the wake of the crash.

The airline was audited in 2013 when a former pilot raised concerns to regulators about Damojh’s inadequate maintenance standards, and again in 2010 for a problem with a landing gear that caused an emergency landing in Puerto Vallarta.

H/T: Miami Herald

Featured image by ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images.

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