Police - Man who hijacked Cuban plane to Key West surrenders
Wednesday, April 2, 2003
KEY WEST, Fla. -- In the second hijacking of a Cuban plane in as many weeks, a hijacker claiming to have two grenades surrendered an hour after forcing the aircraft to land in Florida with 32 people aboard.
The hijacker was carrying a little boy when he came off the Cuban Airlines plane at the Key West airport and was wearing a red windbreaker with the word "America" stitched in white on the back. He was taken into FBI custody.
"He got off the plane with a child in his arms," Key West police spokesman Steve Torrence said. When he put the child down, "the little child grabbed his leg," he added.
The surrender ended a more than 12-hour ordeal spent largely at the Havana airport, where the hijacker demanded that the plane be refueled so it could reach Key West.
He had insisted on continuing despite a U.S. official's warning that he would be prosecuted and denied asylum.
The man was identified as Adermis Wilson Gonzalez, 33, said U.S. Attorney Marcos Jimenez, who added that the suspect would be charged with hijacking.
Gonzalez was traveling with his wife and 3-year-old son, Jimenez said.
The FBI said the boy he was holding when he stepped off the plane was not his son.
FBI agent Hector Pesquera said translators planned to interview the 24 other passengers -- 11 men, nine women and four children -- and seven crew members.
Authorities found two fake grenades after using a bomb-sniffing dog to search the aircraft, Monroe County Sheriff Richard Roth said.
A search of Gonzalez's home in Cuba turned up four homemade grenades that had not been armed with explosives, according to a statement read on Cuba state television. The communique also said Gonzalez had been living on the small Isle of Youth, southwest of Cuba's main island.
It was unclear how someone could gotten the purported grenades through heavy security checks at Cuba's airports, especially less than two weeks after a successful hijacking.
Passengers left the plane not far from the parked Douglas DC-3 that was hijacked on March 19. Both hijackings took place on Cuban domestic flights from the Isle of Youth to the capital of Havana.
During the standoff at Havana's Jose Marti International Airport, about two dozen passengers, including a woman holding a small child, escaped the plane by jumping from the open back hatch of the Soviet-made AN-24 into the arms of emergency workers.
The FBI said the plane left Cuba despite attempts by U.S. Interests Section Chief James Cason to persuade the hijacker to surrender. Two F-16 Fighting Falcons from Homestead Air Force Reserve Base escorted the plane to Key West, said Maj. Ed Thomas of the North American Aerospace Defense Command.
A statement from Cuban authorities blamed the hijacking on what Havana says is the lax treatment of six men charged in the March 19 hijacking.
Jimenez, the U.S. attorney, was adamant that all the alleged hijackers would be fully prosecuted.
"We are not lenient on terrorists and those who commit crimes of violence," Jimenez said. "If anyone, including the Cuban government, thinks we're going to be lenient on this defendant because he is Cuban, they are wrong."
The suspects in the March 19 hijacking pleaded innocent Tuesday to federal air piracy and air piracy conspiracy charges, which carry maximum prison sentences of 20 years to life. They were granted bond, but prosecutors appealed that decision and they remain in jail.
Six crew members and 25 passengers -- all Cubans except for one Italian -- were on the earlier flight when knife-wielding hijackers took it over. Sixteen of those aboard chose to return to Cuba, the Italian was released in the United States and the rest opted to stay in the United States under a U.S. immigration policy that allows Cubans who reach American soil to stay and seek legal residency after a year.
It was not immediately clear how many people in the latest hijacking would request to stay.
Associated Press Writer Anita Snow contributed to this report from Havana.