Alfredo J. Sanchez
P.O. Box 056035
W. Palm Beach, FL 33405
Tel & Fax 561/585-1861
Farm office 561/597-3604
21 June 2000
21 JULY 1991 U.S. MILITARY RESPONSE TO CUBAN THREAT TO CIVILIAN AIRCRAFT.
July 21, 1991, was my second of hundreds of rescue missions with BTTR. We flew a group of 3 aircraft, my Cessna 310 (then N3033L, now N312MX), and another aircraft, N5416K. I was pilot of my aircraft, and Guillermo Lares served as copilot. We had two observers in the back seats, who had recently been rafters themselves.
We departed Tamiami Airport at approximately 8 am, flew to the Eastern end of our search grid near Cay Sal, and proceeded with the search pattern at 500 feet, maintaining only radio contact with each other. On these first few flights of BTTR, it was not our practice to contact Havana Center, since we always kept our flights outside the 12 mile Cuban territorial boundary .On our way South we sighted a US Customs "aerostat" radar-balloon ship, and made note of its approximate location.
After-some searching, my rear starboard observer located a raft, near latitude 23-46, longitude 81-06. This raft had 7 men on board and appeared to be in fragile shape. Our standard procedure at the time was to drop them a note and some provisions, and climb in a circle to about 1,500 feet in order to telephone our base in Miami via cellular radios, never loosing eye contact with the raft. Our base operator that day was Jose Basulto.
The US Coast Guard' s response that morning was that their closest cutter was about 4 hours away. We advised them that we would circle and stay with the raft at 500 feet until the rescue was completed, and if necessary we would fly to Key West to refuel and rush back. We also advised them of the Customs aerostat vessel we had sighted earlier and asked if they could assist, to which they responded affirmatively.
Just prior to terminating the communication, Jose put us on hold, and subsequently advised us of a message from the Coast Guard operator, that they had just been advised by the Air Force that there was a Cuban military target rapidly approaching us, that Havana had warned them that they could not guarantee our safety, and that we should immediately leave the scene and fly North of the 24th parallel. I consulted with Guillermo and my crew, and our reply was that the raft was in dangerous condition, that if we left we would probably not be able to relocate it even with Loran (GPS was not part of our equipment at the time), and that we would descend back to 500 feet and wait for the Customs ship to arrive.
I was monitoring the emergency 121.5 frequency, and within a few minutes (certainly less than 5), I received a radio call directed to my aircraft from a "Wove 1 and 2". Wove 1 and 2 identified themselves as a flight of interceptors dispatched out of Homestead Air Force Base for our protection. They advise us that they were at 30,000 feet above us, that the Cuban military threat had disappeared back into Cuban airspace, and that they would remain stationed above us until our rescue mission was complete.
N5416K momentarily relieved us while we refueled in Key West, returned, and within 2 hours the Customs aerostat vessel had completed the rescue of all 7 rafters, and we proceeded to Key West to refuel a second time, and then back to Tamiami.
Enclosed is a copy of the Coast Guard's transcript of the above incident, titled "Cuban Military Response to Cuban Brotherhood to the Rescue Aircraft", and several black and white photocopies of color photos I took of that particular rescue.