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Some of the pastors pictured at the retreat.

Twenty Nazarene pastors and wives killed in plane crash

Christians in Eastern Cuba are mourning the loss of almost every Nazarene church pastor in their region after a passenger plane crashed Friday outside Havana, killing more than 100 people. The dead include 20 Christian leaders – pastors and their wives.

CBN News’ Spanish-language division Mundo Cristiano has confirmed through the Council of Churches of Cuba that the evangelical leaders were from the Nazarene Church. They were traveling back to eastern Cuba, after having participated in a spiritual retreat.

“They were leaving an event at the El Nazareno evangelical seminary and were returning to their province in the eastern region,” Maite Quesada of the Council of Churches of Cuba said.

The director of the region of the Church of the Nazarene of Mesoamerica, Carlos Sáenz, also confirmed the news of the death of the pastors.

“Let the whole family of the Church of the Nazarene join in prayer on behalf of our brothers and sisters,” Saenz asked.

The Boeing 737 commercial aircraft, rented from the Mexican firm Global Air, owner of Aerolíneas Damojh, crashed minutes after taking off from the José Martí International Airport, in Havana, heading towards the city of Holguín at the eastern end of the island.

The authorities state that there are three surviving women, hospitalized and in critical condition.

“It seems that there are a high number of victims,” said Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel hours earlier, who visited the site of the incident, where a huge plume of smoke was raised, according to El País.

The president has said that the possibility of survivors is not promising.

“On behalf of the Cuban government and the (communist) Party, we regret the fact, and we join in the condolences of the families,” the president added.

In a CNN report, by CNN’s Patrick Oppmann reporting from Havana, Natalie Gallon and Marilia Brochetto from Atlanta, and Ray Sanchez from New York, the news outlet says more than 100 people are believed dead Friday after the Cubana de Aviacion Boeing 737-200 crashed on takeoff from Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport, according to Cuba’s state-run media.

Three female passengers are in critical condition after surviving the crash into thick vegetation just miles from the runway, the state-run newspaper Granma reported. Earlier Friday evening, Granma reported that one of the three survivors had died. Shortly afterward, Granma issued a correction, saying that all three women are alive.

Flight DMJ 0972 was headed to the eastern Cuban city of Holguin when it plummeted into in an agricultural area in the Santiago de las Vegas neighborhood at 12:08 p.m., according to Granma. Vice Minister of Transportation Eduardo Rodríguez Dávila said there were 105 passengers on board, including one infant. Five passengers were foreigners and 100 were Cuban, he said.

Argentina’s Foreign Ministry said two passengers were Argentine.

Orestes Bentancour, who lives near the crash site, told CNN that he was drawn out of his home by the “enormous noise” the plane made on takeoff. He said the plane appeared to swerve to one side and revved its engines before crashing.

Five crew members on board were Mexican nationals, according to Mexico’s Civil Aviation Authority. Global Airline, which operated the flight, said there were six crew members, all Mexican nationals.

The nearly 40-year-old Boeing 737-200 was owned by the Mexican airline Aerolíneas Damojh and leased to Cubana de Aviacion, the Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement. The charter flight “suffered a failure” and crashed about six miles from the airport.

Search and rescue personnel descended on the area — with some residents helping — as firefighters tried to extinguish the flames, according to photos and video from the scene.

The Granma report included a photo from an airport terminal of a towering plume of black smoke rising in the distance.

A large fireball followed by a plume of smoke was visible near the airport on the outskirts of Havana, according to witnesses.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel was at the scene of the accident, the newspaper reported.

Diaz-Canel later offered his condolences to the victims’ families and told reporters the cause of the crash was under investigation.

Cuban State TV announced two days of mourning, during which flags will fly at half-staff.

Former Cuban President Raul Castro, recovering from recent hernia surgery, is aware of the crash and is staying informed about the situation, the government said.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto offered his condolences via Twitter.

Boeing issued a statement of condolence and said, “A Boeing technical team stands ready to assist as permitted under US law and at the direction of the US National Transportation Safety Board and Cuban authorities.”

Holguin is more than 700 km (about 435 miles) east of the Cuban capital. Cuban state media originally reported the flight was bound for Guyana.

Cubana de Aviacion — the national carrier — has had to ground some of its aging fleet because of safety issues, though the cause of Friday’s crash is unknown.

Thursday, Cuban First Vice President Salvador Mesa met with Cubana officials to discuss problems plaguing the airline.

In November 2010, a domestic passenger plane with 61 passengers and 7 crew members crashed in central Cuba, according to state media.

The Aerocaribbean flight, carrying 28 foreign passengers and 40 Cubans, was traveling from the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba to Havana.

– By Michael Ireland