EVENTS LEADING TO THE FEB. 24, 1996
SHOOTDOWN OF BROTHERS TO THE RESCUE AIRCRAFT.
BTTR's first encounter with Cuban
MiGs triggers a response from U.S. Air Force interceptors and a protocol for BTTR flights
(followed on Feb. 24, 1996) intended for its operational safety. The procedures to be
followed include: 1) The filing of a flight plan which is provided in advance to the
Cubans; 2) a unique transponder code to clearly identify each BTTR aircraft; 3) radio
communication with Cuba's air traffic controllers prior to crossing parallel 24 south.
This procedure is still followed and this information is still routinely given to the
Cuban authorities by the FAA before every BTTR search and rescue mission.
U.S. Coast Guard report of first encounter. Witness on incident and protocol, Mary Ann Zduncyzk, former supervisor for the FAA flight service in Miami, spoke with the Miami Herald. See Tropic Magazine, Feb. 16,1997, pg. 13.
BTTR is warned via radio by the FAA
of impending danger and requested to land. BTTR was later advised that MiGs were in its
Witnesses available on request.
The U.S. military takes a "un-official" but important role in secret talks with Cuban Military officials, at Guantanamo, Cuba. A video tape of the "friendly" talks at the Guantanamo Naval Base is leaked to the press and reported in Miami
BTTR organize and participate in
several seminars on the subject of nonviolence as a tool for change in Cuba, with the
Albert Einstein Institution, The Florida Martin Luther King Jr. Institute for nonviolence
and with Ricardo Antocich S.J. a Roman Catholic priest and a scholar on the subject.
These activities were made public.
The Miami Times Feb. 8,1996 pg. 4A, "Spreading King's Message"
BTTR participates in a flotilla, to
remember and honor the 41 men, women and children killed on that date the previous year,
after the sinking, by the Cuban Navy, of the "13 de Marzo" tug boat. BTTR
aircraft flies over Havana to divert the attention of the Cuban command plane away from
the boats of the flotilla, when these were being rammed by Cuba's gunboats. The command
plane followed one of the BTTR aircraft.
The Miami Herald July 15, 1995 article "Thirteen Minutes Over Havana"
Later in 1995
BTTR makes a commitment to provide relief supplies to the refugee camp in the Bahamas on a weekly basis, typically on Saturdays, and regularly did so. Several organizations including the Red Cross and The Salvation Army participate. Witnesses available.
01/09/96 & 01/13/96
Operation "Martin Luther King
Jr.". BTTR drops leaflets containing the U.N.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights over Havana, from international air space, taking
advantage of meteorological conditions and altitude.
BTTR press release Jan. 19, 1996 and Miami Herald Jan. 15,1996 "A Political Deluge"
U.S. Intelligence detects Cuban MiGs practicing air to air missile firing against slow moving aircraft similar to BTTR's. Time Magazine article dated Oct. 28, 1996 page 46. "Clinton's Cuban Road to Florida"
Retired Admiral Eugene Carroll of the
Center for Defense Information, reported to the State Department and the Defense
Intelligence Agency that during his visit to Cuba the Cuban authorities had asked him and
others in his group how the U. S. government would react if Cuba shot down exile planes
that violated Cuban air space. Carroll informed the U.S. that he took the question as an
indication that Cuban military officials were considering such an action.
See CNN transcript of news show 9:25 am ET Feb. 25,1996
BTTR pledges its support to
"Concilio Cubano" and publicly provides an undisclosed donation of funds.
Despite acting in accordance with "open" U.S. policy to Cuba, BTTR is not
granted a license to assist Concilio Cubano, and is privately criticized by U.S.
authorities for acting on its own.
See Miami Herald Feb. 14,1996 pg. 2B "Brothers gives .... " and El Nuevo Herald, Feb. 4,1996 pg. 3A "Nuccio defiende ..."
The U.S. State Department advises
various governmental agencies that BTTR may be planning a political statement on 02/24/96,
thus creating a dangerous perception of BTTR's intentions. This information was fabricated
and probably initiated at the F.B.I. by Cuba's double agent and occasional BTTR pilot Juan
Pablo Roque, who later returned to Cuba on 2/23/96 (one day before the shoot down).
See Testimony of Customs radar expert Jeffrey Houlihan at the court hearing of the FAA vs. Jose Basulto. (Mr. Houlihan was a witness for the U.S. Government, not Mr.Basulto.)
Court transcript pg. 361, 362, 364. and Sun Sentinel Feb. 29,1996 "'FBI admits ... "
MiGs practice the shoot-down of a
slow flying small aircraft, according to testimony from participant obtained in Tampa.
Miami Herald article dated Aug.7, 1997.
Jeane Kirkpatrik, Reagan's
former U.N. Ambassador, informed The Miami Herald that a Clinton administration official,
knowledgeable about Cuban affairs, had spoken with her, about his own concern and loss of
sleep over his conviction that something dreadful was going to happen to the Brothers
planes and volunteers.
See The Miami Herald's Tropic magazine Feb., 16, 1997 pg. 11.
Richard Nuccio, White House expert on
Cuban affairs, told Chris Marquis, of the Miami Herald Washington Bureau, that Brothers to
the Rescue were headed for a clash with Cuban authorities the next day.
Tropic Magazine Feb., 16, 1997 pg. 12.
The International Civil Aviation Organization ("ICAO") report states that the State Department believed the Cubans to be in a "rough mood" that week. ( ICAO report pg. 50 paragraph 2.2.2). It is interesting to note that given all of this information the U.S. State Department did not warn BTTR.
BTTR made its weekly plan to fly to the Bahamas and invited various non-BTTR members to participate as observers.
The Bahamian government notifies BTTR that it is denied entry into the refugee camp due to a visiting delegation from Cuba. As a result, BTTR plans a standard search and rescue mission in the Florida Straits, responding to the news of new departures from the Island as it had done in 1800+ missions 'in the past.
THE FOLLOWING EVENTS OCCURRED ON FEBRUARY 24,1996
Cuban MiGs are sighted in the area north of Havana by U.S. radar. (See ICAO Report pg. 51, paragraph 126.96.36.199) BTTR later learned from Maj. Houlihan and others that U.S. interceptors responded to their presence.
Three BTTR aircraft depart for regular humanitarian search and rescue mission. Four U.S. radar facilities activate surveillance of BTTR aircraft. (See ICAO report pg. 51, paragraph 188.8.131.52.1)
BTTR planes see a U. S. military intelligence, Orion type aircraft, headed East, at the same altitude, approximately five miles north of the 24 parallel. An unusual sighting.
BTTR contacts Havana Center to report their crossing of the 24th Parallel Southbound, as done on all search and rescue missions since 07/21/91. (ICAO report transcript pg. 22 through 32.)
Two Cuban MiGs take off to intercept the BTTR aircraft. (U.S. Air Force screen-print marked "1")
Shortly thereafter, U.S. interceptor jets at Homestead Air Force Base were placed on "battlestations" alert. The Homestead F-15s were then directed off of battlestations by Cheyenne Mountain. This has been characterized as due to a "communications error".
Cuban MiGs fly above BTTR aircraft (U.S. Air Force screen-print marked "2")
Major Jeffrey Houlihan of the U.S.
Customs Radar Surveillance out of March Air Force Base in California identifies the Cuban
MiGs flying towards the United States and maneuvering around the BTTR aircraft. He
proceeds to make the equivalent of a "911" call to the Southeast Air Defense
Sector at Tyndall Air Force Base. Tyndall Air Force Base confirms Major Houlihan's
sighting and states, "we're handling it, don't worry".
The Miami Herald, "U.S. Radar Official: 911 call", dated July 3, 1996.
Major Houlihan further
testified that there is a standard operating procedure in which interceptor jets must be
deployed once Cuban MiGs cross the Cuban 12 mile territorial limit, yet this procedure was
not followed in this case.
Houlihan court testimony pg. 482.
Miami Air Traffic Control Center
could also have been contacted in a matter of seconds to warn the BTTR aircraft as has
been done in the past or BTTR's Opalocka base control could have been contacted directly
in under 2 minutes, as has also been done in the past.
The Miami Herald article dated July 3, 1996
Houlihan's testimony during the FAA vs. Basulto court hearing, pg.430.
MiG shoots down first BTTR aircraft,
after visually confirming and describing target identity (as a blue and white Cessna 3 3
7) to Cuban military controllers. This occurred 6 to 7 minutes after
Major Houlihan's "911" call to SEADS.
Transcript of MiGs communications Exhibit G-1, pg. 4.
MiG shoots down second BTTR aircraft
after visually confirming and describing the target identity to Cuban military
controllers. This occurred 6 to 7 minutes: after the first BTTR aircraft had been shot
down and 14 minutes after Major Houlihan's "911 " call.
MiGs transcript of communications, Exhibit G-1 pg. 5.
It is alarming that no attempt was
made to warn the BTTR aircraft. On numerous occasions in the past, the BTTR aircraft had
been contacted, while in flight. concerning Cuban MiGs 'in the vicinity or requesting
other information. On all occasions, when advised of Cuban MiGs, BTTR has returned to
Witnesses on request.
First pair of Cuban MiGs return to Cuban bases.
Second pair of MiGs pursue third and last remaining BTTR aircraft on a Northbound course, guided by military ground radar control.
Remaining BTTR aircraft crosses 24th
U.S. radar data.
MiGs make visual contact with the
remaining BTTR aircraft and communicate with ground control for instruction. They are
'instructed to continue pursuit.
MiG's communications transcript, ICAO Report, Exhibit G-2 pg. 10, 11 and 12.
MiGs positively identifies, to Cuban
controllers, the third remaining BTTR aircraft as a light blue Cessna 337. MiGs maneuver
about and around the third BTTR aircraft losing contact two times.
ICAO Report, Exhibit G-2 pg. 10, 11 and 12.
BTTR aircraft at 24:16': 18",
placing it at about 16 miles North of the 24th parallel
U.S. Air Force screen prints.
The third BTTR aircraft is at 24 -
26' NORTH and 082 - 27' WEST. About 26 miles North above the 24th Parallel in U. S.
controlled airspace. The Cuban Migs, after regaining visual contact of the BTTR aircraft
for the third time, are told to suspend its mission by ground control, because it was too
high. Meaning too far to the North?. At this point. the Cuban MiG was three minutes from
See MiG's Communications transcript Exhibit G-2 pg. 13 for event time, and U.S. radar data from radar site B94, for location.
3:14 P.M. to 3:53 P.M.
During a total of 39 minutes, while
the Cuban MiGs pursued the BTTR aircraft, the United States made no attempt to contact the
BTTR aircraft, as had been done on numerous occasions in the past. A call would have taken
less than a minute. The U.S. Air Force did not authorize two F-15 interceptor jets to take
off when they were already in battle stations with engines running to deter the Cuban
Miami Herald's Tropic Feb. 16, 1997 pg.14.