Another bizarre chapter was added to the annals of U.S.-Cuba relations on Tuesday, when a Florida Pizza Hut driver allegedly stole a small plane and flew it to Havana.
John Reese, alternatively identified by The Miami Herald as Milo John Reese, 55, was allegedly taking his first solo flying lesson from Marathon, Fla.-based Paradise Aviation when he suddenly declared that he was afraid to land.
Then he broke off radio contact and flew 140 miles south from the Florida Keys, eventually crash-landing the school's four-seat Cessna 172 just outside the Cuban capital, Havana.
‘He Said He Was Afraid’
"He said he couldn't land, he said he was afraid," Paradise Aviation Vice President Ute Steigerwald told Reuters. "The instructor talked him through it. Then about 100 yards out he turned toward the ocean and didn't come back."
Although he was tracked by U.S. Navy planes in the area, Reese did not respond to their radio signals, either, and pilots could do little more than watch as he entered Cuban airspace.
Witnesses in Cuba say Reese first tried to land the aircraft on a road, then skimmed the ocean, lost a tire and then turned over on the rocky coast just outside of Havana.
Reports from that city say he walked from the wreck dazed and scratched up, but seemed mostly unhurt. He was taken away by police.
"He said his name was 'Juan Miguel,' that he was from Florida and he asked for some water," Fabian Molina Herrera, a 19-year-old student, told The Associated Press.
"He looked alright, but a bit scared," local resident Johan Mora told Reuters.
U.S. officials said Reese was being treated at a Havana hospital, but there has been no official comment from the Cuban government, not even to acknowledge that the incident took place.
Why Did He Do It?
The political implications of a Cuba landing — and that Reese made no radio contact once he was under way — has led to speculation that he was not the novice pilot he made himself out to be, and perhaps had some other motive for his mystery flight.
The Miami Herald quoted local police officials as saying the man was a manic-depressive who may not have been taking his medication.
"One of the things he does in his episodes is pretend he's a pilot," Monroe County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Becky Herrin told the paper. The paper said police found a book on flying Cessna aircraft in his motel room.
In addition, the newspaper said Reese, an anti-prostitution activist in Reno, Nev., once faked his own disappearance to draw attention to his crusade.
Was He Really a Novice?
There has also been speculation that Reese has more than two weeks' flying experience under his belt.
"We did not discuss any forms of navigation, especially long-range navigation," his instructor, Ed Steigerwald, told The Associated Press. "He obviously had some prior experience, somewhere along the way."
Steigerwald is also the owner of Paradise Aviation.
Ute Steigerwald, his wife, made similar remarks to Reuters.
"He looked like he knew what he was doing," she said.
The owner of another flight school told the Herald he had rented planes to Reese — but cut him off a few days ago, declaring the novice pilot "a huge liability."
"He was flaky," Rob Grant, owner of Grant Air Service in Marathon, told The Miami Herald. "As we say in the business, he was flying with a broken wing." ABCNEWS Radio contributed to this report.