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U.S. Coast Guard Holds News Conference on Cuban Plane

Aired September 19, 2000 - 4:52 p.m. ET


BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: Live coverage now from Opa Locka, Florida, the U.S. Coast Guard reporting on the hijacking of a downed Russian-built seaplane off the coast of Key West, Florida.

READ ADMIRAL THAD ALLEN, U.S. COAST GUARD: What I'd like to do is kind of set the scene for you a little bit, tell you about our operations, what kind of hardware we've got on-scene, and then maybe go through a little bit of the chronology of what transpired today.

As we speak, we have a C-130, Coast Guard long-range aircraft, orbiting over Yucatan Pass, to the west of Cuba. It is on-scene with a vessel called the Chios Dream. That is a 580-foot bulk freighter flagged out of Panama.

Earlier this afternoon, the Chios Dream encountered aircraft debris and found 10 people in the water. Those people have been recovered and are on the Chios Dream. Our C-130 aircraft that is orbiting above the Chios Dream is in communication with the master and he has reported the following condition. There are four males on board. One of the males is reported deceased. One male is reported to have critical head and neck injuries. There are two other males, three females and three children.

At this time, we have staged a helicopter to Key West. It is an H-60 Coast Guard Jayhawk rescue helicopter. About 1800 this evening, or 6 o'clock, we will launch the helicopter to meet the Chios Dream to effect the medical evacuation of the injured male.

The trip out with the helicopter will be about one hour and 30 minutes. The reason we are delaying the launch is that the ship is too far offshore for our helicopter to rendezvous and complete the evacuation.

We have asked the Chios Dream to alter their course and proceed toward Key West so that we can expedite the evacuation, and they have done that. They are cooperating.

On board the helicopter, which normally carries a pilot, a co- pilot, an air crewman, and a rescue swimmer, we have also placed a medical corpsman from our facilities in Key West.

Once the helicopter arrives on-scene we will deploy assistance down to the Chios Dream. We will evacuate the injured male who has the head and neck injuries. We will then assess the medical condition of the remaining persons on board. We will make a determination at that time as to whether any further medical care is needed.

We have a second H-60 helicopter deployed to Key West should that be necessary.

This case started this morning at approximately 10:40 when we were advised by the FAA at Miami Center that they had received a report from Havana Center that a hijacked aircraft had left Pinar del Rio in western Cuba and was headed on a western course -- excuse me, a course to the west.

A short time later, we were advised that the Coast Guard -- the aircraft was located about 60 miles southwest of the Marquesas Key, just to the east of the Key West. That is considerably to the east of where the aircraft was finally located, and we are researching into the reason we had two different locations.

But as we were launching aircraft to proceed to that scene, we were advised by the Chios Dream that they had encountered the wreckage, and we simply extended our patrol to that location and have been talking to the master since them.

I'll be glad to take any questions you have.


ALLEN: I cannot confirm anything other than what was reported. The report from Havana Center said that the plane -- the pilot had reported the plane had been hijacked. I have no further information.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Do you know how -- how did you confirm that the aircraft went down in the water?

ALLEN: The Chios Dream reported they had found the wreckage and people clinging to the debris.

CANDIOTTI: And if those people do not need medical care, other than the one that you know is injured, where will the others go?

ALLEN: I think that's a premature issue at this time. We need to get somebody out there and assess the medical condition. Our primary concern at this time is the safety of all the individuals, and we are trying to get medical care on scene as fast as we can.

CANDIOTTI: Do you know if they would stay aboard that vessel or be transferred to a...

ALLEN: I wouldn't want to conjecture because we do not know their condition.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) a big discrepancy from the point where these 10 people were found and where originally the plane was supposed to be, where you were originally looking (OFF-MIKE)?

ALLEN: The question was, what about the discrepancy in the two positions? We're not really sure. You know, as these cases emerge, there's a lot of confusion, a lot of reports going on. And the fog of war sometimes really is a true statement.

Our initial report was that it was 60 miles south of Key West. However, as we got on-scene, we got the updated report and continued on, and we were able to locate them where the Chios Dream was at.


QUESTION: Yes, where was it? Where exactly was it found?

ALLEN: Excuse me. Yes, sir.


ALLEN: The aircraft was originally reported to have 18 people on board, but we have confirmed with the master of the Chios Dream that only eight people were recovered from the water, and they have stated that was the total number of people that were on the aircraft.

QUESTION: Admiral...

SHAW: This is Rear Admiral Allen, Thad Allen, speaking to reporters at the Opa Locka location in Florida, detailing the fact that something that is happening very dramatic as we report to you. A C-130 is orbiting over a freighter near the Yucatan Pass, where the plane departed when it was hijacked earlier today.

According to the admiral, eight people are on board, including one person who is dead. There is a person with critical head and neck injuries, and the Coast Guard has asked that the freighter move closer to Key West, the freighter called the Chios Dream, so that the Coast Guard rescue chopper heading out there will have a shorter distance to reach this freighter at some time around 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time, approximately an hour from now.

Rescue operators will be lowered from that chopper to get this man and fly him back to the United States.

The plane hijacked from Cuba, a Russian-built seaplane. We don't know how many people did not survive, but we do know that eight are aboard the freighter, the Chios Dream.

I'm Bernard Shaw in Washington. We'll keep you posted in all these developments as they occur and come in throughout the evening.




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