Cuban migrants convert 1951 pickup truck to raft

MIAMI -- Cuban migrants fashioned a boat out of a 1951 Chevy pickup truck and "drove" it to within 40 miles of the United States before they were spotted, taken off and returned to the island, the U.S. Coast Guard said Wednesday.

The dozen migrants, some sheltered in the truck cab or under a yellow tarp covering the bed, were noticed last week by a U.S. Customs aircraft south of Key West, Coast Guard Petty Officer Ryan Doss said.

A propeller attached to the drive shaft of the green vintage pickup was pushing it along at about 8 mph, Doss said. The truck-raft was kept afloat by empty 55-gallon drums attached to the bottom as pontoons.

Migrants have been founds on rafts or small boats made out of refrigerators, bathtubs, surfboards and inner tubes, but the truck was believed to be a first.

"We haven't come across any vehicles like that before," Doss said.

The truck was sunk as a hazard to ocean navigation.

The Cubans were returned Sunday, Doss said. Under U.S. law, Cubans who reach U.S. shores are allowed to stay while those caught at sea are usually returned.