By Santiago Perez and Anthony Harrup
Cuban authorities have identified the remains of 15 of the 110 victims of Friday's deadly crash in the country's capital while a team of local and foreign investigators focused on the possible causes of the disaster and the operating conditions of the Mexican company that owned the old Boeing 737, which plummeted soon after takeoff.
The only survivors rescued on Friday, three women passengers, remained in critical condition at the intensive care unit of the Calixto García Hospital in central Havana, while the remains of the first identified victims began to be delivered to relatives in the eastern city of Holguín, authorities said.
The Boeing 737-200, en route to Holguín, crashed in a field and burst into flames soon after taking off from the Havana airport around 12 p.m. local time Friday. Cuba's transport minister, Adel Yzquierdo, said that 110 people were killed of the 113 passengers and crew aboard.
Authorities said five children were among the 15 victims identified over the weekend, and that identification of all the victims could take days.
Cuban officials said that after a request from U.S. authorities, a team from Boeing Co. will join the investigation.
"We will provide all the necessary assistance so the can do their job," Cuba's transport minister, Adel Yzquierdo, told state media.
Mexican investigators are already participating in the probe, as the aircraft, built in 1979, was leased by Mexican charter airline Aerolíneas Damojh to flagship carrier Cubana de Aviación, which has an aging fleet and has recently taken many of its planes out of service.
Damojh was responsible for maintenance and operation of the aircraft, Mr. Yzquierdo said. "We had rented this plane less than a month ago. We keep all the documentation which shows that the crew was certified and fit," he added.
Mr. Yzquierdo said it is usual for Cubana de Aviación to lease aircraft from foreign companies, in part because the U.S. embargo against the Communist island hinders the state-owned carrier's capacity to buy planes.
The Mexican government said late Saturday it will conduct a new operational audit of the charter airline to determine whether it was still meeting regulations and to gather information that could help in the probe.
The airline was inspected in November and found to be following proper maintenance procedures, the Communications and Transport Ministry said Friday. Damojh, set up in 1990, has a fleet of three planes, two Boeing 737-300s and the 737-200.
But several people said they have complained about the airline's safety operations before.
Marco Aurelio Hernández, a pilot who worked for Damojh from 2005 to 2013, told Mexico's Milenio newspaper that he had frequently informed the owner of maintenance problems, which had included engine trouble and electrical system failure. Airline officials declined to comment.
Mr. Hernández said he had worked before with Jorge Luis Núnez, the captain on Friday's ill-fated flight.
Guyana's director of civil aviation, Egbert Field, told the Associated Press that the plane that crashed had been barred from the South American country's airspace last year because its crews had been allowing overloading of luggage on flights to Cuba.
Authorities on Saturday recovered a flight recorder from the destroyed aircraft. Its charred debris was scattered across a field near Santiago de las Vegas, a rural village some 12 miles south of Havana's city center.
Investigators are likely to look initially into whether both engines were operating as expected and whether movable panels on the wings were deployed to help the plane climb during takeoff.
Mr. Yzquierdo, the transport minister, said the cockpit recording device recovered was in good condition and that he hoped that a second flight recorder would also soon be recovered. The flight recorders, known commonly as black boxes, keep flight data and cockpit communications and can help investigators determine the cause of accidents.
The cockpit-voice recorder is the least important of the recorders on the plane, according to experts. The flight-data recorder, which captures pilot commands and operation of onboard systems including engines, is more likely to provide relevant clues. Initial readouts of black boxes in good condition takes only hours in the U.S., but could take longer elsewhere, or if they are damaged.
The data are likely to show if both engines were working, how fast the plane was flying and whether the sharp turn reported by authorities shortly before the plane crashed was commanded.
Andy Pasztor contributed to this article.
Write to Santiago Perez at [email protected] and Anthony Harrup at [email protected]