Pilot and Wife Describe 200-Mile Daring Escape From Cuba
MIAMI (AP) _ A Cuban couple who flew themselves and 32 other defectors to the United States undertook the daring helicopter escape for fear their son and daughter would otherwise attempt the crossing by motorboat, the wife says.
″It all began when our own children were thinking about taking a boat to come to Miami,″ Maria Carrazana de Pompa said.
Mrs. Pompa, speaking through a translator at a news conference Monday, said she feared that her children from a previous marriage, Inova Lara, 24, and Eduardo Lara, 23, would not survive the perilous, 200-mile boat voyage.
She and her husband, German Pompa, the Cuban Air Force lieutenant who piloted the helicopter, realized the whole family would have to escape, she said in her first detailed account of Friday’s flight.
Mrs. Pompa, 44, said food and electricity shortages and other deteriorating conditions back home made them willing to risk death. They picked Friday because the military ″was more relaxed for the holidays,″ she said.
Her children kept their boat ready in case the flight aboard the Soviet- built helicopter had to be aborted.
Mrs. Pompa said she was so busy looking for land during the flight that she didn’t have time to be scared. She said she kept thinking, ″The land of liberty, the land of liberty.″
Pompa, 27, said he and a co-pilot were on board when the helicopter lifted off from Varadero International Airport in Cuba.
The men flew to a field nearby and picked up the others, said Pompa, who had been decorated 10 days earlier for fighting with Fidel Castro’s troops in Angola.
The fully loaded military helicopter flew just a few yards above the water to evade Cuban radar, arriving at a small airport west of Miami.
Had the Cuban government spotted the helicopter, ″they would have either shot us down or asked us to return,″ Pompa said.
Pompa, a national airline employee, ordinarily used the helicopter to transport tourists across the island.
The Cubans packed no food, little water and only two or three changes of clothes each.
Mrs. Pompa said that while she was sad to leave her parents and brother behind, she was thrilled to be in the United States.
″I feel like I’ve been born again,″ she said.
The couple, their two children and 10 other defectors are staying with Mrs. Pompa’s sister outside Miami. One of the 34 defectors remained in an immigration jail because relatives could not be contacted.
The other refugees are living with family members near Miami.
All have applied for political asylum.