- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 12, 2002

KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) A cargo plane carrying seven Cuban adults and one child landed yesterday at Key West International Airport, immigration officials said.

The biplane was escorted by two U.S. fighter jets as it landed about 10:30 a.m., airport Director Peter Horton said.

The passengers were in the custody of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and agents were conducting interviews to determine whether they wish to seek political asylum, INS spokeswoman Maria Elena Garcia said.

It was not immediately known where the Cubans took off from or their identities.

The Border Patrol, U.S. Customs Service and the Air National Guard base in Homestead did not immediately return calls seeking comment. Key West police and the Federal Aviation Administration referred calls to the INS.

There was no immediate comment from the Cuban government on the incident. It was not mentioned on state-controlled radio or government television's midday news report.

Fidel Castro's government often takes hours, and sometimes days, to issue carefully worded official responses to international incidents.

The small yellow biplane had only two seats in it, for the pilot and co-pilot, Mr. Horton said.

Cubans have used a variety of mostly Soviet-built aircraft to leave the island in recent years. Some were stolen by their pilots, others were hijacked.

A stolen crop-duster carrying 10 persons from Cuba ran low on fuel and ditched in the Gulf of Mexico in September 2000. One man drowned.

One of the largest groups came in 1992 when a Soviet twin-engine turboprop operated by Cuba's Aero Caribbean landed in Miami with a defecting pilot and 52 others. The co-pilot and four others later returned to Cuba with the plane.

Havana maintains that under the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, Washington practically invites Cubans to try anything from planes to inner tubes to reach the United States by promising them the right to stay if they reach American soil.

Washington, meanwhile, accuses Havana of provoking the journeys by preventing Cubans who have U.S. visas from legally leaving the island. Cuban officials deny the charge.

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