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Aviacion Cubana

The Cuban Civil Aviation: Hijacked airplanes

Rubén Urribarres


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  Hijacked from Cuba to the United States before the Revolution of 1959


In Cuba the fever of hijacking airplanes begins before the triumph of the revolution, when the Cubans civil pilots denied to transport weapons for the Cuban Army of the President Batista, besides that the pilots wan´ts be transferred to the Air Force and what is more worse, to continue flying over the zone dominated by the rebels, therefore the rebelds shoot to the airships. 

The first hijacking of airship in Cuba, occurs April 9, 1958, when a C-46, with 4 crew asked asylum to the US Government in Miami, after landing there. For this date there was a total of 26 aviators expecting asylum. 

April 13, 1958, is produced the second hijacking, and the pilots talk about the same causes that the previous case, this time there was 3 crew, that asked asylum in Miami, and 12 passengers of the airplane DC-3 of Cubana de Aviación, that covered the route Havana to Santa Clara. 
 
Mi-8 hijacking to Miami in the nineties
 Helicopter Mil Mi-8 CU-H407 of Cubana in Miami after he was hijacked from Varadero at the beginning of the ninetyes. It was exposed in Kendall Tamiami Executive as part of the Week' s Air Museum before being returned (Courtesy of Joel Whitice)The hijacked Mi-8 is show in Miami

Then the revolutionaries took the reins and began to copy to the ones that fled from Cuba, and in October 21 1958, a group of castrist rebelds seize a DC-3 of Cubana de Aviación with 14 persons. The airship flew for the province of Oriente and was obliged to land in a trail dominated by the Guerrillas. According to the revolutionaries, with this hicjacking they want receive the attention of the United States Government, so that it did not send more weapons to the General Fulgencio Batista. 

But these air revolutonaries hicjacking in Cuba did not stop, because the November 1, 1958, the Movement 26 of July, of Fidel Castro, hickjack another airship, a Viscount-755 with 20 persons, in the route Miami - Havana - Varadero. The airplane is diverted to Oriente near Holguín, and the hicjackers obliged the crew to landed in a trail of the United Fruit Company, near the Preston town. But cannot land in this trail by their reduced dimensions, they began to fly in circles in the night, they could not see the trail, and when see that remained few fuel, they decided to land, erring the trail for 3 kilometers, and falling to the sea, in the Bay of Nipe. Dying 17 persons, and 3 passengers remained injured, but alive.  The revolutionaries, in voice of their leader, asked excuses and they indicated that their intention was that US did not deliver more weapons to the General Batista, besides they not were done responsible for the action of some isolated revolutionaries. 

November 5, 1958, the revolutionaries return to operate and hijacking a DC-3 of Cubana (flight 482), piloted by Assembling Pïedra, that flew the route Manzanillo to Holguín.  There was 25 passengers and 3 crew. The airplane lands in the rebelds zone. 

       From Cuba to the United States after the Revolución of 1959 


After the Cuban revolution triumph, the papers are changed. Now, among the years 1959 and 1960, when Fidel Castro arriving to the power, the loyals of the ex-president Batista and the citizens that were not in agreement with the new government, began to escape from the island using hijacking planes. The more worse thing of all this, is that the United States government saw it with good eyes, and gave the refuge condition to the hijackers. Cuba began to harden its position and took severe measures, including began to execute the caught hijackers. 
 
Antonov An-24 hijacking in the nineties
 Antonov An-24 CU-T1266 of Cubana in Miami, just after he was hicjacked in the eightyes (Courtesy of Don Boyd)

April 15, 1959 is hijacked to Miami a C-46 of Aerovías Q, with 3 crew and 19 passengers. The hijackers were four old members of the Batista´s Army (three were from the SIM -the Military Intelligence- and one was an aviation mechanic). The airplane is returned by US.  In May 1960 is hijacked to Miami a Cessna-180 numbers CUN676 by Juan Romero, ex-pilot FAEC, he later come as FAL pilot in the Bay of Pigs. 

Along these years the hijacking since Cuba done very frequent, we will put only some examples. 

March 27, 1966 the hijacker Angel María Betancourt Cueto armed with a pistol, tries to take a Il-18 that flew from Santiago de Cuba to Havana, with 97 persons, to escape to US.  The pilot Fernando Álvarez Pérez, heroically is opposed to the hijacking and lands in Havana.  Then the hijacker kill Alvares and the escort Edor Reyes, and seriously wounds the copilot Evans Rosales.  This event shok all the country. The hijacker later was caught and executed. 

March 11, 1987 the crew of a An-24 of Cubana is resisted to the hijaking of its airplane, but the terrorists throw a shell that wounds 13 passengers.  December 29, 1992 a An-26 of Aerocaribbean is hicjacked in flight Havana-Varadero to United States. 

February 4, 1992 Luis Rodríguez hicjaking their fumigation plane An-2 with other eight persons, include their wife and two daughters. The An-2 fell without fuel to the sea, in a little distance from the keys at the south of Florida. Nobody survived. 

June 7, 1996 the Lieutenant Colonel José Fernández Pupo hijaked an airplane An-2 with 10 passengers, that flew from Bayamo to Santiago de Cuba, obliging to the pilots with a gun to land in the naval base of Guantánamo. The other persons also asked asylum. At May 29, 1997 they were declared not guilty by americans from the charge of hijack. 
August 16, 1996 the commercial pilot Adel Given Ulloa (23) and other two workers of Aerotaxi, Leonardo Reyes and José Roberto Bello, force (with a file of cutting nails) the pilot Adolfo Pérez Pantoja to fly to United States. The airplane was a small polish PZL-104 Wilga, that remained without fuel in the strait of the Florida, and fell to the sea at 50 km of Fort Myes.They were collected by a Russian ship, the pilot wanted to return, and the three hijackers asked asylum. They went defendants of hijacking by a court of Tampa, but declared not guilty. All they remained in US. This was the third hicjacking in month and half.
PZL-104 Wilga of Aerotaxi
PZL-104 Wilga of Aerotaxi

The September 19, 2000 was hijacked a fumigation plane An-2 from Pinar del Rio. It fell to the sea in the strait of Florida without fuel. The plane rotated several times around a Panamanian ship before falling, asking help. 8 persons still alives and one died. The Cuban authorities notified the Americans, and two F-15 take off from the Florida to intercept it, but when they arriving, all was finished.  The hijackers of planes follow until today. 

This An-2 fall to the sea after he was hickjacked

  Hijacked from the United States to Cuba



Later the papers are inverted again, and in the years 60 the Arabs terrorist and Islámics fundamentalist, among others, begin to cause havocs with the air terrorism and only then United States account its serious intial error when stimulating the hijacking from Cuba. However this costed him money and, it more serious, lives, as an example, remember that since 1965 to 1968, were hijacked or caught more than 147 American planes. 

May 1, 1960 is made the first hijacking from US to Cuba, when the Puerto Rican Abdulio Ramírez Ortíz hijacking an airplane in regular flight of the National Airlines to Key West (in 1975 Ramírez returns to US, where he was imprisoned for 20 years). In July and August were hijacked other 3 airplanes. From september 1961 to July,1967 other two hijacking are produced, two intents are frustrated, and an airplane is stolen. 

February 21, 1968 a DC-8 in flight Chicago-Miami with 102 passengers is hijacked to Cuba, the major hijacking to date.  From June 19 to July 1 other 3 airplanes are hijacked, including a DC-8 of National Airlines. In total 14 airplanes were hijacking to Cuba from 1967 until half of 1968.  9 of them American, and the others of Mexico, Venezuela and Colombia. 

The Americans desperately and with delay, approve laws declaring at last the hijacking as criminal acts of air pirats, and begin actively contacts with other countries to establish international laws to the respect, and in contribution with the ICAO and the IATA. In the meantime, in september 1968 are hijacked to Cuba other 3 airplanes (1 of US and two Colombians).  November 4 is hijacked the 32nd airplane to Cuba since May of 1961, a Boeing-727 of NAL. 

The contacts with representatives from Cuba through international agencies intensify, seeking to achieve an agreement among the mutual accusations. During this time, in November three airplanes with a total of 230 passengers are hijacked to Cuba. One was Mexican and two Americans. Another northern airplane suffers the same luck the day 30. At the beginning of December of 1968 the hijackings and his intents during all the year 1968 were 27, in comparison with the 12 betwen 1961 - December of 1967. 

Fidel Castro describe the last of these hicjakings: 
"once, i remember, went to the airport and one of those airplanes arrived, and the police there, in the United States, shots to the wheels of the airplane.....and the airplane landed without rubbers, with all the rubbers destroyed, a large airplane, a Jumbo of those, the firemen filled of foam the Trail, i went and remember that asked me: ¿What is going to do here?  He freed sparks and all that, but landed without rubbers, with all the rubbers destruyed by the American police.....from then not more United States airplane hijacking was produced" (Fidel Castro 3 of June of 1998) 

In 1969 Cuba and Mexico sign a agreement for the return of hijackers of airplanes by means of an international covenant. After a mutual agreement among Cuba and United States, the hijackings are done sporadic. Although at the seventies began again.  In 1977 there was 1 hicjacking, in 1978 there was 4 and 6 in 1979.  In 1980 were already 22 hijackings or intents of hicjacking from United States and other countries to Cuba. In 1982 they are 2, and the dynamics follows thus: 1982: 6, 1983: 15, 1984: 4, 1985: 1, 1986: 3, 1988:3 and 1989: 1

In the nineties, with the deterioration of the economic situation of Cuba and the fall of the socialism in Europe, the quantity of people who wan go to Cuba by hicjacking diminishes considerably: only 1 case in 1990, 1 in 1991, and 1 in 1995.

Parts of this chapter was received from the gentiously help of Enrique Alberto Martín Cuervo, from the Organización Rescate Humboldt, Venezuela.



  Related articles
The Trasatlantic Flight of Menendez Pelaez
1913. Audacious Flight of Rosillo and Parlá
1933-1938, Cuban Military Aviation. The 1933 Revolution and her consequences.

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