A Cuban commercial airplane burst into flames during takeoff and slammed into a soccer field Saturday high in the Andes mountains, killing at least 78 people, authorities said.
At least 15 people survived the crash and were pulled from the wreckage, airport officials said.The Russian-made Tupolev-154 aircraft owned by Cubana de Aviacion clipped the top of an auto mechanic's shop beyond the end of the runway at Quito's international airport, witnesses said. The nose and front part of the plane disintegrated in the crash.
The jetliner barely missed a heavily traveled avenue at the end of the runway in a middle-class residential neighborhood 9,300 feet above sea level. It was en route first to Guayaquil, on the Ecuadorean coast, and then on to Havana.
The plane had just started taking off when apparently at least one motor failed and the aircraft crashed several hundred yards beyond the end of the runway, Red Cross official Galo Leoro said.
Gen. Osvaldo Dominguez, director of the Civil Aviation Office, said there were 76 passengers and 14 crew members on board. He said at least 19 foreigners were killed, including Cubans, Chileans, Italians, Spaniards, one Argentine and one Jamaican.
There were no reports of Americans among the dead.
Red Cross workers in red uniforms dug through the charred wreckage for survivors, while firefighters sprayed jets of waters on the smoking ruins to prevent further explosions.
Airport officials reported that at least 15 survivors were pulled from the wreckage at Quito's Mariscal Sucre International Airport.
"There must be many dead, but there are also survivors. I pulled one person out alive," said civil defense volunteer Hugo Albuja.
Channel 10 TV interviewed Cuban survivor Hernan Boada, 27, who suffered a broken ankle.
"Before we heard the roar of the crash, we felt the plane rise a bit and burst in flames. There were three explosions," Boada said. "I saw other people wrapped in flames jump from the plane."
Dominguez confirmed that the death toll included nine people, including several children, who were killed on the ground.
One woman said three of her children, who were playing near the crash site, were missing.
President Jamil Mahuad went to the crash site and said he was asking investigators to complete studies as soon as possible for building an airport outside the capital.
People have often complained about the noise and the possibility of accidents at the current airport.
In 1984, an Ecuadorean cargo plane slammed into a neighborhood beyond the end of the runway after failing to gain altitude, killing 65 people.
And in 1996, a Brazilian FLY airlines plane carrying a Brazilian soccer team, crashed into some airport walls.