In 1997, a Cubana flight crashed off the island’s southeast coast three minutes after take off, killing about 40 people.
A year later, around 80 people were killed when a Cubana plane crashed into a field after taking off from the airport in Quito, Ecuador. In December 1999, dozens of people, many of them Guatemalan medical students, died when a Cubana flight skidded off the runway in Guatemala City. A week after that, another Cubana flight crashed into a mountain in Venezuela, killing all 22 people aboard.
There was confusion over which airline had leased the plane that crashed on Friday to Cubana. Initial state media reports said it belonged to Blue Panorama, an Italian company. But Blue Panorama said its plane was not involved. When reached by phone, an employee at Damojh Airlines, a Mexican company also known as Global Air, confirmed the plane belonged to the company.
Damojh Airlines began operations in 1990, and counts three airplanes among its fleet, according to a statement from the Mexican Secretary of Transportation.
The statement said that as recently as November the aircraft had been inspected as part of an annual program, and that its planes had passed a safety test administered by the government agency. In addition, the airline was up-to-date on its permits and was authorized to lease the planes domestically and abroad, including to Cubana.
The crash came against the backdrop of Cuba’s struggle to improve commercial aviation on the island nation, which has long faced economic constraints from the United States embargo.
A day before the crash, Cuban state newspapers reported on a meeting Cuba’s new vice president, Salvador Valdés Mesa, held with key officials from the island’s aviation sector to discuss challenges.
The report said that Roberto Peña Samper, the president of the Cuban Aviation Corporation, bemoaned that the “embargo placed by successive American administrations prevents” the island “from acquiring the resources necessary to operate a larger fleet of planes and to enhance airport services.”
Cubana suspended its domestic flights in March, several news outlets reported. Radio Marti, the United States government-funded website, posted a photo of a sign on the airline’s door showing that all the flights had been canceled.
A security guard told Radio Marti that there were “literally no planes,” and added that the ones that remain are “in very bad condition.”