June 27, 2000
To: Mr. Jose Basulto, President, BTTR, Inc.
From: Raul U. Martinez, Volunteer Pilot, BTTR.
Subject: Flight of December 19, 1992
The following summarizes, to the best of my recollection and belief, the referred flight and related events. Despite the time lapsed, same are vividly remembered as said flight was just my second mission with BTTR, as was the case with the late Carlos Costa. Moreover, I have in my possession fragments of a VHS tape (filmed by Luis Cruz) which were originally given to me as a souvenir memento and are available, upon your request, for partial corroboration and review.
1) Mission Outline (Intended Mission as per flight plan):
Search & Rescue flight over the Northern (Double Headed Shot Keys and Elbow Cay) and Western Cay Sal Bank (including Cay Sal Island) and four "lines" over the Straits of Florida; starting with a Westbound leg along the 23º125.0' N parallel from directly South of Cay Sal (080º24.5'W) all the way to North of Havana (082º30.0'W). Departure from and intended return to Tamiami-Kendall Executive Airport (TMB).
2) Participating Aircraft:
At least three; a Cessna 337 Skymaster (N-451-D) owned and possibly piloted by Ivan Domeniewics; an Italian-made conventional twin engine aircraft with fixed landing gear owned and operated by Venezuelan volunteers and a Cessna 310 owned by Mr. Alfredo Sanchez. The crew of said Cessna 310 was comprised by the following volunteers:
Adalberto "Beto" Lares, Pilot in Command
Carlos Costa, Co-Pilot
Luis Cruz, Observer and Video Recorder Operator
Raul Martinez, Observer (and writer of this memorandum)
At least another aircraft, a second Cessna 337 Skymaster (piloted by Jose Basulto ) would be first flying to Key West (EYW) carrying a load of canvas shoes donated to the Casa del Balsero at said location and would subsequently join the Search & Rescue effort.
Weather was locally clear, with a "front" having just passed over S. Florida with its Eastern edge over the Andros Island area and its Western edge over the Matanzas region. We departed TMB at approximately 08:10 Local Time and flew Southbound (along the 080º05'W meridian) as planned. At approximately 24º40'N (i.e., around 08:50 Local Time) radio communication was established with Cubana flight 1978 on the 133.7 Havana Center frequency for a relay of our intentions report (i.e. , to fly our S.A.R. Mission South of parallel 24 N, over international waters) to same. This time, a very infrequent occurrence, the Cubana pilot not only responded to our relay request, but courteously and diligently "worked" (including frequency changes) through interference efforts provoked by "others". Following our report, N-451-D (Ivan) and the Venezuelan aircraft also reported to Havana.
Well after being established within our assigned Westbound "line" (on 23º25'N and West of 081º30'W) and flying in less than ideal conditions (we had just penetrated the Western fringes of the "frontal system" and there was some light rain and turbulence) we saw what appeared to be a raft approximately three miles South (left) of us. Our pilot was able to approach same, which turned out to be a trio fishing from a large circular inflated inner tube. There were no "motions" nor any other signal evidencing a rescue request and, as we were re-establishing our Westbound line on 23º25'N., at approximately 09:50 Local Time, a very clear radio call was received by our aircraft. (I believe, but by no means am I certain, that said call came through 123.4 or 123.45, the working frequencies used by BTTR at the time). The message was concise and in plain English: "SEAGULL FLIGHT (or BTTR, or similar reference) IMMEDIATELY HEAD TOWARDS KEY WEST INTERNATIONAL AND LAND THERE; THESE ARE COMPANY'S ORDERS". When pilot "Beto" Lares asked for “authentication" of the "company's orders", the strong voice (in a very "Anglo" Spanish pronunciation) "ratified" that "THESE ARE ORDERS BY MR. BASULTO" and "MUST BE FOLLOWED AT ONCE". Needless to say, all three aircraft headed North and landed at EYW.
Upon landing at EYW we did see Mr. Basulto, who was invited to visit the USCG compound and was briefed accordingly. While walking around the ramp we heard a couple of unofficial versions, ranging from announced "military exercises" being conducted by Castro's "Ejército de Occidente" (which supposedly included Mig flights) to allegations that our Cessna 310 had "bordered" Cuban airspace and had been "missile locked" by a Mig.
Regardless of which was the real reason for the interruption of our mission, one fact appears to be clear: at that time (December, 1992) the U. S. Government and its National Defense-related agencies, despite the "lame duck" status of the Administration then in charge, took timely and decisive action to remove BTTR aircraft out of harm's way.