- Associated Press - Thursday, October 30, 2014

MIAMI (AP) - For two days, Lazaro Allegue has scoured the waters of Miami’s Biscayne Bay and combed the thick brush on nearby keys in search of his son.

He trekked through mangroves, shrubs and mosquito-ridden thickets in knee-deep water, and he crossed miles and miles of vast blue sea.

As the sun fell Wednesday, there was only one possible trace of 28-year-old Adrian Allegue: An empty inner tube found by volunteers about a mile and a half from where a surviving rafter who journeyed with him for eight days at sea said he was last seen.

Lazaro Allegue believes it’s the one that carried his son.

“I will search for him at any hour of the day or night,” Allegue said Thursday. “This is my son.”

Adrian Allegue was aboard a makeshift vessel that carried 13 men from Cojimar, Cuba, when the rafters decided to try and swim to shore Sunday night. According to survivor Joel Moreno, they’d spent more than a week without food or water after their raft capsized, tossing all of their provisions into the water. Unable to endure any longer, Moreno said each man grabbed a piece of the raft and began swimming toward land.

Moreno and Adrian were close to one another until early the next day, he said. At that point, they were less than a quarter mile from shore. Moreno said Adrian was unable to continue swimming any longer. Moreno himself was too fragile to try and push him.

He continued swimming while Adrian stayed behind in an inner tube near a buoy.

“He was weak,” Moreno said. “But he was conscious.”

That morning, a tug boat spotted one of the other rafters and a search operation began. By the end of the day, 11 of the men had been rescued from the water or reached land.

Upon hearing the news, Lazaro Allegue immediately began calling hospitals and authorities. He knew from relatives in Cuba that his son had fled on a raft. The rescued rafters were all from the same town as his family. Yet no one had any information on his son.

On Tuesday, he went out with Moreno in Coast Guard boats to search for Adrian. They went to the spot where Moreno had last seen his son, but found no trace of him.

The Coast Guard continued searching until Wednesday afternoon, covering 3,145 square miles in boat, helicopter and plane before deciding to suspend the search. Petty Officer Mark Barney said the decision does not mean that the two men still missing are presumed dead.

“We never lose hope, we never assume anything, especially the worst,” he said.

Lazaro Allegue, meanwhile, decided to go out and search himself in a borrowed saltwater fishing boat. Relatives and Moreno joined him.

They searched for hours through all of the keys near where Adrian was last seen. Lazaro Allegue, Moreno and two other men traversed through the wildlife on Elliott Key, getting separated and nearly lost at one point.

When his friends returned to the key to pick him up, they had a find: A black inner tube with white string tied around one side.

Moreno said he is certain it is the one Adrian was in.

“It’s exactly the same,” he said.

Thursday, the inner tube leaned against a hallway in Lazaro Allegue’s Hialeah apartment.

“I haven’t lost hope,” he said, smoking a cigarette. “As long as people help me, I will keep searching.”

Lazaro Allegue himself tried fleeing on a raft. In 1994, Fidel Castro told Cubans they were free to leave, fueling an exodus of 35,000 rafters. Allegue was among the thousands picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard and sent to the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo.

After three months, Allegue said, he decided to return to his family on the island. Then, in 2012, he secured a visa to immigrate to the U.S.

Some of the only photos he has of his son are of their last night together. In them, they are seen smiling and hugging one another.

“He was always by my side,” Allegue said proudly. “He’s a mechanic just like me.”

Allegue said he’d spoken with his son about sponsoring him to come to the U.S. with his wife and children, two boys ages 1 and 6, as soon as he got his residency.

“But he got desperate,” he said.

At least 3,722 Cubans have been intercepted at sea or made it to shore in the last fiscal year, a 75 percent increase over the previous year.

Lazaro Allegue’s plan now is to continue searching in any boat that will take him. He left the last point he trekked on Elliott Key marked with a white plastic chair so that he’d know where to begin looking again.

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Follow Christine Armario on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/cearmario

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