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Wednesday, 1 August, 2001, 22:37 GMT 23:37 UK
Cuba flight baffles officials
Authorities remove crashed plane for investigation
Witnesses say John Reese was lucky to survive
Officials in the United States and Cuba are baffled as to why a novice American pilot crash landed a light aircraft he had flown from Florida on a rocky shore near Havana.

John Reese, aged 50, was taken to hospital with minor injuries after ditching the Cessna 172 plane near Cojimar, east of the Cuban capital on Tuesday evening.


The circumstances we know of suggest that this was not a political action

Richard Boucher, US State Department
He had taken off on his first solo flight in the plane, owned by a flying school, and was meant to circle Marathon airport in the Florida Keys once and then land.

Instead, he flew south for 230km (140 miles) before crashing.

A Florida sheriff's spokeswoman said Mr Reese had a history of mental illness, and no apparent links to Cuba.

"He was really lucky because he was going really close to the sea before he reached the ground," said one eyewitness.

Investigation

A statement from the Cuban Foreign Ministry said officials were conducting a "rigorous investigation" into the incident.

Cessna 172
It is not known whether the $60,000 aircraft can be salvaged

Mr Reese could face prosecution for violating Cuba's airspace and grand theft charges in the US for taking the $60,000 aircraft.

However US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said any political motive for the flight was unlikely.

He added that the Cuban Government had told US officials that Mr Reese was undergoing tests and being treated for minor injuries in hospital.

"Our US Interests Section in Havana is in direct communication with this person's family... We have requested consular access to this American citizen," Mr Boucher said.

Pilot 'lost nerve'

Mr Reese, a driver for Pizza Hut in Marathon, had been taking flying lessons for two weeks with a company called Paradise Aviation.


We are not exactly ecstatic about it

Ute Steigerwald, Marathon airport
Paradise's Vice-President Ute Steigerwald said that Mr Reese had lost his nerve when he came into land.

"He said he couldn't land, he was afraid," she said.

A US Navy plane tracked the Cessna, and tried to make contact with Mr Reese, but without success. It turned back when Mr Reese entered Cuban airspace.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Daniel Schweimler
"Fifty-year-old John Reese normally drives for a pizza company"
Ed Steigerwald, Paradise Aviation
"The pilot was approved to do one supervised take-off and landing at the airport"
See also:

28 Aug 00 | Americas
US attacks Cuba on migration
30 Jul 01 | Americas
Timeline: Cuba
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