Aging Boeing 737 in Cuba Crash Had Strong Safety Record, Unlike the Airline Operating It

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While sales of the 737-100 and -200 started off rather slowly, in part due to the aircraft’s small size (their capacity was about 100 passengers), its fortunes improved in the early 1980s with the introduction of what is now known as the Classic 737s, and the Next Generation 737s carry almost twice the number of passengers and can fly twice as far as the original models.

The fatal accident rate for the earliest Boeing 737s such as the 100 and 200 models was 0.89 for every million departures. That number fell to 0.25 for the so-called Classic versions – namely the 300, 400, and 500 – and fell again to 0.09 for the Next Generations such as the 600, 700, 800, and 900.

These rates compare rather favorably with other aircraft. The Airbus A310, for example, had a fatal accident rate of 1.85 per million departures. The Boeing 777, which is a contemporary of the Next Generation 737s, has a fatal accident rate of 0.2.

With minor exceptions, only brand new aircraft such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the Airbus A350, and the Bombardier C-Series have a fatal accident rate of 0 and the 737 Next Generation’s rate of 0.09 is only bested by the Embraer 170/175/190 series with a rating of 0.07, before accounting for the new aircraft.


The Boeing 737-200 was en route to the city of Holguín in eastern Cuba and had just taken off from Aeropuerto Internacional José Martí. Cubana had been renting the plane under a wet-lease arrangement for a month, a common arrangement for Cubana given its inability to purchase new or even used modern aircraft.

The aircraft came down in thick vegetation near a railway outside the airport, broke apart, and burst into flames. It was split into several sections with the tail coming to rest against a tree. Passenger belongings including luggage were scattered across a wide area.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel ordered the formation of a commission charged with investigating the cause of the crash. The country’s minister of transportation, Adel Yzquierdo, told reporters on Saturday that 110 people were killed in the crash.

Three female passengers were rescued from the debris and reported in grave condition at a hospital in Havana at last report.

Authorities said that the victims included 99 Cuban passengers, six Mexican crewmembers, and five foreign passengers. Officials said that all passenger remains had been recovered although identifying the remains could take up to 30 days.

The first black box that was recovered on Saturday – the cockpit voice recorder – was said to be in good condition and officials hoped to soon recover the flight data recorder as well.

While the investigation is under Cuban authority, Mexican investigators are also participating as the company whom the aircraft had been leased from is Mexican. Cuban authorities are also allowing investigators from Boeing to assist in the investigation.

The Cuban government issued a proclamation that the island nation would observe a period of official mourning from 6 a.m. Saturday morning until midnight on Sunday. During this time, all flags at public buildings and military installations would fly at half-mast.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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