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3 Cubans Survive Sinking

November 26, 1999

MIAMI (AP) _ Sam Ciancio and Donato Dalrymple planned to spend the early part of their Thanksgiving hoping to hook dolphin fish off the Florida coast.

Then they saw the inner tube.

Clinging to the inflated ring was 5-year-old Elian Gonzalez, one of three survivors from a boat carrying 14 Cubans that sank two days earlier in the Atlantic Ocean.

Ciancio said the child was appealing for help even as he pulled him to safety and cradled him in his arms about 2 miles off the coast of Fort Lauderdale.

``If there’s anybody who doesn’t believe there’s a God alive, today they do, on Thanksgiving,″ Ciancio said.

Earlier Thursday, two other survivors came ashore on another inner tube off Key Biscayne, said Petty Officer Scott Carr, a Coast Guard spokesman.

The survivors _ a 33-year-old man whose name was not released and Arianne Horta, 22 _ were severely dehydrated and sunburned.

U.S. Border Patrol Deputy Chief Mike Sheehy said today that all three will be allowed to stay in the United States.

The survivors told rescuers they had left Cardenas, a city east of Havana on Cuba’s north coast, at 4:30 a.m. Sunday aboard a 17-foot aluminum boat, the Coast Guard said.

The boat began sinking Tuesday, they said. The two adult survivors said seven refugees drowned almost immediately. They said they grabbed one of two inner tubes tied to the boat, while five others, including the boy, grabbed the second.

The body of a woman between 50 and 60 years old was recovered five miles to the south of where the boy was discovered. Rope found with the woman’s body was similar to rope on Elian’s tube, authorities said.

A massive search and rescue operation was launched by the Coast Guard and the Miami-Dade Police Marine Patrol. It continued today with two Coast Guard aircraft taking off at dawn to search the seas form Miami to Fort Pierce. But chance of finding survivors was slim.

``You have to consider a lot,″ said Carr. ``You have to take survivability rates into consideration. The boat went down Tuesday. The longer someone is in the water, the less chance they can survive.″

Elian was taken to Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, where he was treated for minor dehydration and cuts on his hand. He was in good condition.

But the boy told the Coast Guard that his parents had drowned.

``He’s probably just beginning to realize that his mother is missing, and is a little depressed,″ Dr. Yvonne Rutherford said. ``But overall he is in very good shape considering what he’s been through.″

The Border Patrol says that, since 1993, at least 140 Cubans and Haitians have drowned while trying to reach the United States. Last December, 14 Cubans drowned when a boat trying to smuggle them to the United States capsized near Miami.

Dalrymple, the fisherman, was on an emotional high after rescuing the little 5-year-old boy.

``I’ve traveled around the world as a missionary, but I have never felt like this,″ Dalrymple said. ``What a gift to find this kid today. I would like to see his face again.″