Cuban Plane Crash Survivors Allowed to Stay

“The absence of any punishment for acts of naval and air piracy, and for the hijacking of Cuban planes and boats sometimes by violence and murder, have constituted one of the greatest encouragements to illegal migration,” said the Communist Party newspaper, Granma.

“The unjustified non-return of a large number of intercepted people, the unpunished trafficking of migrants carried out from the coasts of the United States, create unfavorable conditions for the serene and constructive analysis of migration problems,” Granma said.

But State Department spokesman Richard Boucher emphasized the need to have these talks.

“It is dangerous to leave Cuba … and that is why we are having these migration talks,” Boucher said.

Wanting a Better Life

According to family members, the Cubans were attempting to defect to the United States.

“They want a better life, they don’t want to live in Cuba” said Sandra Pozoa, whose sister was a passenger on the doomed plane. “They all came willingly.”

In its first official version of the incident, Cuba’s government said Lenin Iglesias Hernandez, a pilot who worked for Cuba’s Department of Agriculture, had picked up a group of unscheduled passengers at a small landing strip in western Cuba before heading north toward the United States, and then radioed Havana that the aircraft was being hijacked to Florida.

The Coast Guard said the craft was heading west, toward Mexico, when it went down.

“The pilot got lost. They were flying over the sea, when you don’t see land after three hours, you get worried. The pilot realized he was running out of fuel so he stopped looking for land and started looking for a boat,” said the brother of Rodolfo Fuentes, the survivor who remains in the hospital. Rafael Fuentes, 30, of Miami, said he talked to his brother in the hospital Wednesday.

Hours after the crash, the Panamanian-registered cargo ship Chios Dream happened upon the nine people — and the body — in the wreckage in waters 180 miles southwest of Key West, Fla., and 30 miles northwest of Cuba, Coast Guard officials said.

In addition to Iglesias Hernandez, the plane was also carrying his wife Mercedes Martinez, 34, and their sons Erik, 13, and Danny, 7, as well as Liliana Ponzoa, 36; her son Andy Fuentes, 6; Jacquelin Viera, 28; Yudel Puig, 24; his brother Pavel Puig, 28; and Rodolfo Fuentes, according to family and friends who met the survivors at the hospital.

Yudel Puig was killed in the crash. The body was taken to the medical examiner for an autopsy today.

ABCNEWS.com’s Maria F. Durand, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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