Cuban Plane with 14 People on Board Hijacked : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread

Tuesday September 19 10:53 AM ET

Cuban Plane with 14 People on Board Hijacked


MIAMI (Reuters) - A small plane with 14 people on board was hijacked from Cuba on Tuesday and was heading for south Florida, Miami police and airport officials said.

The plane was due to land at Miami's Opa-Locka Airport, Miami-Dade police spokesman Pete Andrews said.

Cynthia Paul, a spokeswoman for Miami International Airport, said 14 people were aboard the Russian-built Antonov An-2 Coltaircraft.

``Thirteen minutes ago it was still in Cuban airspace with limited fuel...we're told its a hijack,'' she said.

-- (hmm@hmm.hmm), September 19, 2000


CNN reports the plane is down in the water.

-- (hmm@hmm.hmm), September 19, 2000.

Tuesday September 19 11:30 AM ET

Cuban Plane with 16 People on Board Hijacked


MIAMI (Reuters) - A small plane with as many as 16 people on board was hijacked from Cuba on Tuesday and went down in the sea while heading for south Florida, U.S. officials said.

Cuban authorities notified U.S. officials about the hijack on Tuesday morning.

``The plane is down, the Cuban authorities have asked for a water search,'' said Miami International Airport spokeswoman Cynthia Paul.

The U.S. Coast Guard said the plane went down in the Florida Straits 60 miles (100 km) southwest of Marquesas Key at the end of the Florida Keys island chain.

The Coast Guard had launched a rescue effort, Petty Officer Robert Suddharth said.

U.S. officials said the plane, which left the communist-ruled island's western province of Pinar del Rio earlier on Tuesday, was an Antonov An-2 with 16 people on board.

``At about 8.45 a.m. Havana air traffic control notified Miami air traffic control center that an aircraft which had departed Pinar del Rio reported being hijacked,'' said Kathleen Bergen, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority (FAA).

Miami police originally said the plane was heading for a south Florida airport with 14 people on board. Officials said it was low on fuel.

Miami television reports said the plane might have been equipped to land on water.

FAA air traffic control said it had no voice or radar contact with the aircraft before it went down.

An official at Cuba's Civil Aviation Institute told Reuters in Havana the aircraft was involved in ``agricultural work'' in Pinar del Rio when it was hijacked.

In recent years, a number of small aircraft have been hijacked in Cuba and flown to the United States by Cubans seeking asylum in U.S. territory.

-- (hmm@hmm.hmm), September 19, 2000.

If you hijack a plane in Cuba, where do you go?

-- Uncle Bob (, September 19, 2000.

Well I hope this time all,if any rescued chidren are sent back immediately..the American taxpayer spent way too much on the last one

-- no more (Elian repe@ts.thank you), September 19, 2000.

Tuesday September 19 6:33 PM ET

Survivors, Body, Found in Sea After Cuban Hijack


By Jim Loney

MIAMI (Reuters) - Nine survivors and a corpse were plucked from the ocean on Tuesday after a small Cuban plane apparently trying to flee the communist-ruled island went down in open sea during what Havana said was a hijack.

The survivors and corpse -- believed to be all the people on board the plane -- were picked up in the Yucatan Channel west of Cuba hours later by the merchant vessel Chios Dream as the U.S. Coast Guard (news - web sites) and military mounted an air and sea search.

``The Chios Dream encountered aircraft debris and found 10 people in the water. Those people have been recovered and are onboard the Chios Dream,'' Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said at a news conference at Opa-Locka Airport near Miami, from which U.S. authorities staged the search.

There was confusion over how many people had been on board the Soviet-built Antonov An-2, with U.S. officials earlier saying as many as 18.

But those who were rescued -- three men, three women and three children -- said they and the dead man whose body was recovered were the only ones on the plane, the U.S. Coast Guard reported.

At least one of the rescued men was badly hurt with head and neck injuries.

Cuban authorities notified U.S. officials that the plane was hijacked from the island's western province of Pinar del Rio on Tuesday morning. An official at Cuba's Civil Aviation Institute said the plane was a crop-duster engaged in agricultural work, but there were no details on who was on board or how the hijacking was carried out.

Another version of the incident was offered by Miami NBC affiliate WTVJ, which reported that the plane's pilot dropped off his co-pilot, picked up his own family and flew out of Cuba.

The plane, which was low on fuel, was first reported missing over the Florida Straits after Miami police said it was heading for Florida.

The site of the rescue added confusion to the incident. U.S officials initially believed the plane had gone down about 80 miles southwest of Key West in the Florida Straits. But the survivors and the body were found about 180 miles southwest of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico.

It was not known if the plane had crashed or deliberately ditched.

The Panamanian-flagged Chios Dream was headed toward Key West late Tuesday. A Coast Guard helicopter was to meet the vessel Tuesday evening and a medical corpsman was to be lowered to the ship to assess injuries.

``We will evacuate the injured male who has the head and neck injuries. We will then assess the medical condition of the remaining persons on board and will make a determination at that time as to whether any further medical care is needed,'' Allen said.

Those who were not in need of medical care could be taken aboard a U.S. Coast Guard cutter, officials said.

The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service declined to comment on what might happen to the survivors. Under U.S. immigration policy, Cubans who reach U.S. shores are generally allowed to stay but those rescued at sea are usually returned to Cuba unless they can convince U.S. authorities they would face persecution if repatriated.

A senior State Department official, asked about how the U.S. government would deal with any hijackers, said, ``We don't even know if it has been hijacked. If they want an asylum hearing, that would be a consideration.''

White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said that when U.S. officials were told there had been a hijacking, F-15 and F-16 jets were scrambled but never picked up the plane on radar. There have been several hijackings of planes from Cuba in past years.

In the last high profile incident, in August 1996, a small plane hijacked by three Cubans who forced the pilot to fly to Florida plunged into the Gulf of Mexico. All four Cubans on board were rescued by a Russian freighter.

In that case, as in several others in the past, a federal court in Tampa, Florida, acquitted the three Cubans of the hijacking a year later. The acquittal was vigorously denounced by Havana, which said it could encourage similar actions by other Cubans.

The An-2 was designed just after World War II as a long-range bush plane to support forest rangers in vast Siberian forests. One model of the plane, the An-2V, is a floatplane version.

Many aircraft in Cuba's civilian and military fleet are of Soviet origin, dating from the island's long and close ties with the former Soviet Union.

-- (hmm@hmm.hmm), September 19, 2000.

Wednesday September 20 10:28 AM ET

U.S. to Determine Fate of Plane Survivors


By Frances Kerry

MIAMI (Reuters) - Eight survivors from a Cuban crop-dusting plane that crashed into the sea were being interviewed by U.S. authorities on Wednesday at the start of a process to determine whether they stay in the United States or go back to the communist-ruled island.

The doomed plane was whisked away from western Cuba on Tuesday in an apparent attempt to flee the country.

A Panamanian-flagged merchant vessel, the Chios Dream, plucked nine survivors and a corpse from the sea west of Cuba after the pilot of the Soviet-built Antonov An-2 ran short of fuel and circled the ship before crashing near it.

A 36-year-old man was taken by helicopter on Tuesday night to Key West, Fla., suffering severe head and neck injuries.

The eight other survivors -- two men, three women and three children - - were set to remain on board the Chios Dream, being interviewed by Coast Guard officials, until late on Wednesday. During the evening they would be transferred to a Coast Guard cutter for further interviews with U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) officials, the Coast Guard said.

Cuba was still trying to clarify whether the incident was a hijacking or an asylum bid -- or both.

In its first official public reaction to the incident, the Cuban government said in a statement on Wednesday that the crop-dusting pilot, identified by his surnames Iglesias Hernandez, was missing with his aircraft after he picked up a group of people at a western landing strip.

His passengers, whose exact number and identities were not known, had boarded the plane ``clearly in agreement with him'', said the government.

In Los Palacios, Cuba, the pilot's former colleague said the pilot lied about being hijacked and was really seeking asylum in the United States.

Flight engineer Juan Jose Galiano Cabrera had initially accompanied the pilot, who he named as Lenin Iglesias, when they set out for work together on Tuesday aboard the crop-duster.

Galiano told Reuters in Los Palacios, about 60 miles (100 km) west of Havana, that Iglesias had persuaded him to stay behind at a landing strip by telling him a lie about going to pick up a check.

He then flew on to another strip, picked up family and friends, and headed north for the United States. Soon after leaving, Iglesias radioed that he was being hijacked.

``He tricked me ... the hijack thing was a lie ... I never suspected that he would run away,'' Galiano said. Cuban authorities had not previously made clear whether they were treating the case as a genuine hijack or as an illegal attempt to leave the communist-ruled Caribbean island. In most incidents involving Cuban boat people, those would-be migrants managing to reach U.S. soil are allowed to stay in the United States, while those intercepted at sea are sent home, unless they can make a case they will be persecuted back in Cuba.

In theory, this would mean that the eight survivors still at sea would be repatriated, while the man evacuated to hospital would be allowed to stay. However the case would be complicated by the fact the group came on a stolen plane.

The INS has so far declined to comment on what might happen to the survivors.

A spokeswoman for the Miami-based Cuban exile group Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), Ninoska Perez, urged U.S. authorities to take into consideration what might happen to the group if they were sent back to Cuba.

``Even if they were not persecuted at the time they left will be when they return,'' she said.

A Coast Guard spokesman, Petty Officer Mike Brock, said the group would not be transferred from the Chios Dream to the Coast Guard cutter until Wednesday evening because the sea was somewhat choppy and ``we wanted to make sure the transfer was safe.''

The eight survivors were undergoing ``search and rescue interviews'' with a four-member team on the Chios Dream to determine what happened with the plane. But interviews on immigration issues with the INS would not start until the group were on board the Coast Guard cutter Courageous, he said.

A doctor from a nearby cruise ship had boarded the Chios Dream and treated two women survivors with injuries but it was determined they did not need to be evacuated to land, Brock said.

In past cases, the process of interviewing illegal Cuban migrants has taken as much as several days. In normal cases involving boat people picked up at sea, U.S. Coast Guard (news - web sites) cutters then repatriate the migrants to a port in western Cuba.

That has been policy since a bilateral 1995 agreement aimed at curbing the flow of rafters over the Florida Straits, although President Fidel Castro's government still complains at the loophole by which Cubans who make it to land are able to stay.

The migration agreements have been a rare area of cooperation between the two nations who have no diplomatic ties, but the plane incident could test that cooperative spirit -- as did the saga of Cuban shipwreck survivor Elian Gonzalez earlier this year.

The two countries were scheduled to resume previously postponed talks on migration issues in New York this Thursday and Friday.

-- (hmm@hmm.hmm), September 20, 2000.

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