HAVANA – The co-pilot who loved to cook and was fond of inviting his colleagues over for sushi. An Argentine couple who had dreamed of vacationing in Cuba in their retirement. Evangelical pastors returning from a conference.
Officials say 113 people were on a charter passenger jet hired by Cuba’s state-run airline, Cubana de Aviacion, when it crashed Friday in the rural outskirts of Havana killing all but three aboard. Here are some of their stories:
THE FLIGHT CREW
Capt. Jorge Luis Nunez was married with an adult daughter and was an experienced and highly professional airman who “loved his job.”
That’s according to former flight attendant Ana Marlen Covarrubias, who worked with Mexican charter company Global Air for seven years before leaving in 2016 and considered Nunez a close friend.
“It was an incredible experience flying with him,” Covarrubias told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “He was a cheerful man, always happy.”
Covarrubias also knew others from the six-person flight crew, all of whom perished in the crash.
First officer Miguel Angel Arreola, who did not have children, enjoyed cooking and would invite colleagues over for homemade sushi.
“He was a great host,” Covarrubias said.
She affectionately recalled spending time with the two at Havana’s Hotel Panorama.
“We were like a family, very close,” Covarrubias said. “I met Jorge 20 years ago, and I introduced Miguel Angel to his current partner.”
Covarrubias said she believed flight attendant Daniela Rios was in her 20s and recalled her as “serious, and of good character.”
Two other Global Air flight attendants, Abigail Hernandez and Beatriz Limon, and maintenance worker Marco Antonio Lopez Perez also died.
THE CUBAN PASTORS
Ten marriages of Cuban evangelical pastors were returning home to Holguin from a national conference when their plane went down Friday on the outskirts of Havana. All died.
“They were men and women faithful to God, to their families, to their neighbors and to the people,” said Rev. Leonel Lopez, the head of Cuba’s Nazarene church.
Lopez said that before leaving on a bus for Havana’s airport the group had been animated, singing and praying. Some already had children.
THE TWO ARGENTINES
Oscar Hugo Almaras and Dora Beatriz Cifuentes had long planned for a dream vacation in Cuba in their retirement.
The couple was from Mar del Plata, Argentina, a beach resort 250 miles (400 kilometers) south of the capital, Buenos Aires.
Almaras, 63, had worked at Citibank, was a fan of Argentina’s Estudiantes soccer team and enjoyed exploring new destinations, according to Argentine newspaper La Nacion.
Cifuentes worked as a nurse in the neonatal unit of the 25 de Mayo hospital, where she was fondly remembered by her former colleagues, with one telling La Nacion “she taught me the ABCs of neonatology.”
“They were excellent people and recently came to visit us in the south,” nephew Andres Cifuentes told La Capital del Mar de Plata newspaper.
Cifuentes posted on social media: “RIP Uncle Oscar and Aunt Beatriz … Thanks for your last hug.”
SURVIVOR EMILEY SANCHEZ
Emiley Sanchez miraculously survived Friday’s plane crash on the outskirts of Havana and though in critical condition in Calixto Garcia hospital, she is conscious and can communicate.
“She knows that I am here, that her son is here, she asked for water,” said her weeping mother, Esther de la O, who traveled from Holguin to be with her 39-year-old daughter.
Sanchez had been in Havana on vacation.