GUASIMAL (Cuba) - EMERGENCY crews hacked through tropical brush in central Cuba on Friday to reach the site of the island's worst plane crash in two decades in which all 68 people on board were killed - 28 of them foreigners.

Police used a bulldozer to clear vegetation from the debris of the domestic Aerocaribbean aircraft, which crashed in the mountainous Sancti Spiritus region on Thursday after the pilot reported an emergency.

'We saw it when it already had problems and was flying low,' Miguel Garcia, a 68-year-old farmer who lives close to the crash site, told AFP. 'There was a great commotion, people gathered and screamed... and then boom, an explosion,' Garcia said.

Mr Eliseo Lopez, a 31-year-old local builder, was one of several witnesses who said he saw smoke coming from one of the aircraft's engines as 'the plane spun around in the sky'. The first rescuers to get to the crash site overnight found the wreckage burning.

'We saw flames from the area when we were struggling through because there was no path. We saw pieces of the plane thrown quite some distance,' said a soldier, Hermes Cecilio Ramirez. A fireman said most of the bodies had been found charred from the flames. They were being transported to Havana for identification, according to the Prensa Latina state news agency.

The plane, a twin turbo-propeller ATR-72-212 built by French-Italian manufacturer Avions Transport Regional, was heading to Havana after departing the eastern city of Santiago Cuba. It had taken off in dangerous weather conditions.

Officials scour crash site