UPDATE 4-Crashed Cuban plane trailed smoke, flame -witnesses

* Plane was flying low, seemed unstable, witnesses say

* South Americans and Europeans among 28 foreign victims

* Cause of crash not yet known, investigators on scene
(Updates with eyewitness quotes, details)

GUASIMAL, Cuba, Nov 5 (BestGrowthStock) – A Cuban Aero Caribbean
passenger plane trailed smoke and flames as it hurtled through
the sky before crashing in a central province, killing all 68
people aboard, eyewitnesses told Reuters on Friday.

They said the twin-engined ATR turboprop was flying low and
appeared unstable as the pilot struggled to keep it in the air
before it veered down and smashed into the ground on Thursday
near Guasimal in Sancti Spiritus province, 210 miles (338 km)
southeast of Havana.

Of the dead, 40 were Cubans, and the remaining 28
foreigners from 10 countries. The foreigners, many thought to
be tourists, were almost all South Americans and Europeans, and
also included one Japanese.

Local residents heard the explosion and saw the flames from
the air crash, the worst in Cuba in two decades, which
shattered the tranquillity of the small rural town.

“It passed very low over my house, pouring out smoke and
fire, a loud noise,” said Kenia Diaz, who was buying bread when
the plane passed over.

“Everybody came out running. My mama shouted ‘the war has
come.’ It scared everyone,” she said.

Another resident, Mirelda Borroto, said she saw smoke
coming from the plane, which was clearly in trouble.

“The plane was coming as if it was losing power, it wasn’t
stable. He (the pilot) tried to raise it up and it began to
spew white smoke,” she said.

After the crash, “we were afraid to get close to it because
we didn’t know what could be on the plane,” Borroto said.

INVESTIGATORS ON SCENE

On Friday, rescuers were pulling bodies from the wreckage
after using a bulldozer to plow through thick vegetation to
reach the crash site.

The newspaper Escambray said experts from Cuba’s Civil
Aviation Institute had arrived to investigate the cause of the
accident, which was the island’s worst since 1989 when 126
people died in the crash of a Soviet-made Ilyushin-62 after
takeoff from the Havana airport.

The government’s Cubadebate.cu website posted a photograph
showing flames rising from the shattered wreck of the plane —
a ATR-72-212 built by ATR, a joint venture of Europe’s EADS
(EAD.PA: ) and Italian group Finmeccanica (SIFI.MI: ).

Authorities cordoned off the crash site and did not allow
reporters to approach. A refrigerated truck and another
carrying body bags were seen entering, witnesses said.

Aero Caribbean is a state-owned regional airline.

The plane’s manufacturer ATR also confirmed there were no
survivors among the 61 passengers and crew of seven on board.

“At this time, the reasons of the accident are still
unknown,” ATR said in a statement, adding it was cooperating
with Cuban aviation authorities in the investigation.

It said Aero Caribbean had operated the plane since October
2006. It was delivered from the production line in 1995 and had
accumulated almost 25,000 flight hours in more than 34,500
flights, ATR said.

The plane, Flight 883, left Santiago de Cuba in eastern
Cuba en route to Havana and went down at 5:42 p.m. local time
(2242 GMT). After making an emergency call, the plane lost
contact with air traffic controllers.

The foreign victims included nine Argentines. Argentine
President Cristina Fernandez was sending a plane with relatives
of the victims to bring home the bodies, an Argentine diplomat
in Havana told Reuters.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero also
sent condolences.

Mexico sent members of its embassy staff in Havana to help
with the identification of the crash’s seven Mexican victims,
Mexico’s foreign ministry said.

In the last significant air accident in Cuba, Canadian,
British and German tourists were among 16 people killed when a
a single-engine Russian-made Antonov-2 biplane crashed into a
reservoir in central Villa Clara province in March, 2002.

For a map of the plane crash, click on
http://graphics.thomsonreuters.com/RNGS/2010/NOV/CUBA.jpg
(Reporting by Marc Frank, Esteban Israel, Rosa Tania Valdes
and Nelson Acosta; Writing by Jeff Franks; Editing by Pascal
Fletcher and Anthony Boadle)

UPDATE 4-Crashed Cuban plane trailed smoke, flame -witnesses