As the U.S. gradually eases into warmer relations with their neighbors 90 miles south, it’s worth remembering how many Cubans have risked life and limb just to get an opportunity in America, mostly during three waves in the 1960s, 1987, and 1991.
These are the crazy stories of 4 of them.
5. Jose Diaz Vasquez
A mere three years after Castro took power in 1959, Jose Diaz Vasquez took his Czech basic air trainer from Camp Libertad to Key West, Florida in September of 1962. He was a great source of intelligence, as the U.S. believed the Cubans to have around 75 MiGs at the time. The number was actually closer to 200. He also had some extra cargo on board—a young Cuban Air Force Cadet named Edel Ramirez Santos, who was later allowed to return to Cuba.
4. Eduardo Guerra Jimenez
In a rather embarrassing debacle on October 5, 1969, Lieutenant Eduardo Guerra Jimenez landed his MiG-17 Fighter at Homestead Air Force Base in Miami. Jimenez flew basically undetected the whole way until being spotted by radar 25 miles south of Miami. He then landed right as President Johnson was hopping on Air Force One, showcasing the USA’s vulnerability for air attacks. 10 years after this incident, Jimenez hijacked Delta Airlines flight 1061 back to Havana. There is no stopping this guy.
3. Rafael del Pino Díaz
In May of 1987, Brigadier General Rafael Del Pino Díaz stole a Cessna 402 from Aerocaribean Airlines with his current wife, daughter and son. A MiG-23 pilot, the General was the Deputy Commander of the Cuban Air Forces and remains the highest-ranking defector. He had commanded Cuban Air Forces in Angola and was chastised for testing his MiGs against an American F-5 fighter in Ethiopia,stating, ''Headquarters told me not to do that again, because it would give our pilots a bad impression. They would think American technology was better than Soviet technology.''
2. Orestes Lorenzo Pérez
On March 20, 1991, Cuban Major Orestes Lorenzo Pérez lit the afterburners of his MiG-23 #722 and took off on a training flight from Cuba. Just after takeoff, Pérez hit the deck and raced to Naval Air Station Key West. Unable to communicate by radio, the Major took a few turns in the pattern before he landed. Over the radio, a stunned U.S. pilot declared, “There’s a MiG in the pattern!” Ironically, Major Pérez spoke no English and after taxing he was approached by a Naval Officer and Hispanic NCO who had to act as translators.
1. Orestes Lorenzo Pérez (Again)
Remember our friend O.L. Pérez? Well, now in the U.s., he had been given a small, twin-engine 1961 Cessna 310. In December the year after his defection, he departed Marathon, Florida and headed south back to Cuba. Pérez landed on a small coastal highway of El Mamey beach just after sunset. Waiting on the side of the road was Pérez’s wife Vicky and their two children. He quickly loaded them up and returned to Marathon, Florida that night. He wrote a book about the experience; Wings of the Morning: The Flights of Orestes Lorenzo. Copies are still available through Amazon.
Christian “Mental” Ward is a freelance writer and retired Air Force Officer living in the greater Atlanta area. If you have an unnatural hunger for stupid car pictures, self-promotion, and short videos of his three dogs, follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Vine.
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