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Cuban Pilot Says U.S. Could Have Prevented Downing of Planes

July 31, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The head of a Cuban-American organization says U.S. military authorities knew American planes were in danger before Cuban fighters shot them down in February.

``I never expected U.S. planes to come save us, but at least I expected the decency of a call,″ Jose Basulto, head of Brothers to the Rescue, told The Washington Post in an interview published in today’s editions.

Four members of the Miami-based Cuban exile group were killed Feb. 24 when two planes were shot down by Cuban MiGs in the Florida Straits. Basulto was in a third plane that was not shot down.

In May, the Federal Aviation Administration revoked the Basulto’s license, saying he had flown into Cuban airspace that day.

Basulto said he based his assertions on testimony from a National Transportation Safety Board hearing into whether his pilot’s license should be suspended. The NTSB ultimately modified the suspension.

At the hearing, Jeffrey Houlihan, a Customs radar operator at California’s March Air Force base, said he spotted two high-speed aircraft on his screen. He said he believed they were Cuban MiGs flying into international airspace toward the United States, the Post reported.

Houlihan then called in a ``911 call″ to the Southeast Air Defense Sector at Florida’s Tyndall Air Force Base and was told, ``We’re handling it, don’t worry.″

Houlihan testified that no interceptor aircraft were launched. He said U.S. fighters could have been on the scene within five to 10 minutes.

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