A Cuban air force defector said he took a "chance in a million" by flying a small plane back to the communist island and spiriting out his wife and two young sons.
"My children's liberty was worth it," said Orestes Lorenzo Perez, a 37-year-old former major who defected nearly two years ago by flying his MiG to the Key West Naval Air Station.On Saturday, Lorenzo said, he swooped into his homeland in a borrowed plane and landed on a coastal road, where his wife, Victoria, and their sons, Reyniel, 11, and Alejandro, 6, were waiting for him as planned.
He made the trip knowing that Fidel Castro's government had condemned him to die as a traitor for flying his Soviet-made jet fighter to Key West in March 1991.
"It was a chance in a million. To be able to sneak into Cuba is possible, but to land on a busy roadway . . . between cars, was indeed a miracle," he said late Saturday when the family arrived in Miami.
U.S. Customs spokesman Tom Bowers said Sunday his agency was investigating the incident to make sure officials "did what we were supposed to be doing." Lt. Col. Doug Hart, a spokesman for the Department of Defense, said he was unaware of the flight and declined to comment further.
But the North American Aerospace Defense Command reported Sunday that Lorenzo's plane was picked up on its radar and determined to be friendly.
Upon arriving Sunday with his family in Washington, where they will stay with friends, Lorenzo acknowledged the story was fantastic.
"I do not believe what we have done. I do not believe myself," he said. "If somebody would tell me this story, I would not believe."
Lorenzo said he flew low to avoid both Cuban and U.S. radar. He insisted he didn't break any laws on the trip across the Florida Straits because he was flying a U.S.-registered plane and advised traffic controllers that he was airborne.
Lorenzo was aided by The Valladares Foundation, an Alexandria, Va.-based group founded by Armando Valladares, a former Cuban prisoner and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations for human rights.
Elena Diaz-Verson Amos, co-chairwoman of the foundation, bought a Cessna 310 for $30,000 and lent it to Lorenzo.
Two Mexican women had traveled to Cuba to deliver a handwritten letter from Lorenzo to his wife, detailing the plans, said Brandon Scheid of the Valladares Foundation.
The letter told Mrs. Lorenzo where and when to meet her husband by the highway near Varadero beach, east of Havana. He drew a map, asked her to rehearse the meeting and stressed that she must not try to hug him when he landed, because he would need to concentrate, Scheid said.