A Cuban airliner flying from the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba to the capital crashed Thursday evening after declaring an emergency, killing all 68 people aboard, including 28 foreigners, authorities said.

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Flames emerge from the wreckage of a Cuban airliner as police officers and residents look on after it crashed near the village of Guasimal in Santi Spiritus province, Cuba, on Thursday. ((Escambray, Prensa Latina/Associated Press))

The AeroCaribbean plane went down near the village of Guasimal in the province of Santi Spiritus. It was carrying 61 passengers and a crew of seven.

A passenger list had nine Argentines, seven Mexicans, three Dutch citizens, two Germans, two Austrians, a French citizen, an Italian, a Spaniard, a Venezuelan and a Japanese among the people on the flight.

The twice-a-week route goes from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to Santiago de Cuba to Havana. The plane had been due to land in the Cuban capital at 7:50 p.m. but reported an emergency at 5:42 p.m. and subsequently lost contact with air traffic controllers.

State media said the plane was an ATR-72 twin turboprop and that the crash site was in a mountainous area not far from the Zaza reservoir, a major source of freshwater for irrigation. Media reports said authorities had mobilized doctors and emergency workers in the rural area, which is about 350 kilometres east of Havana.

State media said the names of those on board would be released later.

At Havana's domestic airport terminal, relatives of those on the plane were kept sequestered away from other passengers and journalists.

"This is very sad," said Caridad de las Mercedes Gonzalez, who was manning an airport information desk. "We are very worried. This has taken us by surprise."

The newscast gave no details on what happened, saying only that the cause of the crash was being investigated.

The flight would have been one of the last leaving Santiago de Cuba for Havana ahead of tropical storm Tomas, which was on a track to pass between Cuba's eastern end and the western coast of Haiti. Cuban media said earlier that flights and train service to Santiago were being suspended until the storm passed.

AeroCaribbean is owned by Cuban state airline Cubana de Aviacion.

The last passenger plane crash on the island occurred in March 2002, when a Soviet-made biplane carrying 16 people, including 12 foreigners, plunged into a small reservoir in central Cuba. The plane was operated by a small local charter company called Aerotaxi.