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Anti castro regufees { November 12 2002 }

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November 12, 2002
8 Cubans in 2-Seat Plane Land in Key West Seeking Asylum

KEY WEST, Fla., Nov. 11 (AP) A two-seat cargo plane crammed with eight members of a Cuban family landed today at the Key West airport in an apparent bid for asylum by those aboard.

The yellow biplane was escorted by two American fighter jets as it landed late in the morning, Peter Horton, the airport director, said.

Under American law, Cubans who reach American soil are virtually guaranteed the right to stay and apply eventually for permanent residency.

The Cubans were being interviewed and were expected to be released to relatives in Florida, said Maria Elena Garcia, a spokeswoman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The group consisted of four men, three women and an infant girl, Ms. Garcia said.

One of the men is an experienced pilot, she said.

It was not immediately known from where the Cubans took off. The authorities did not release their names.

Two Florida National Guard jets were scrambled from the Homestead Air Reserve Base after the plane was spotted on radar, Lt. Col. Ron Tittle, a Guard spokesman, said.

"We shadowed them and got the aircraft to divert to Key West," Colonel Tittle said. "That's a typical type thing."

There was no immediate comment from the Cuban government on the incident.

There was no mention of the incident on state-controlled radio or on government television's midday news report.

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

A stolen crop-duster carrying 10 Cubans ran low on fuel in September 2000 and ditched in the Gulf of Mexico. 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.

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