Cuban refugee boat disappears off coast

Published: Friday, January 27, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 27, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
MIAMI - Authorities on Thursday searched for a homemade boat carrying 15 Cubans that disappeared Wednesday night amid fog and ocean swells off the Florida Keys.
A Customs and Border Patrol Black Hawk helicopter on a routine flyover spotted the rustic wooden craft shortly before dusk Wednesday about 46 miles off the coast. The small vessel had no engine and appeared to be taking on water, said Customs Spokesman Zachary Mann.
Mann said the Black Hawk crew was forced to return to its base in Homestead around 7 p.m. due to poor weather. When another aircraft from Jacksonville arrived shortly afterward, it could no longer find the boat.
"These people weren't trying to get away. They were just drifting in the water," Mann said. "You have a situation where you are 46 miles off shore. The sun goes down, there's no light. Something that small can be easily lost when there's no marker on it."
Mann identified the missing people as Cuban.
Customs and the Coast Guard officials continued the search throughout the night to no avail, and returned Thursdaysearching more than 1,400 square miles, Mann said. He said it was unclear whether the group could have survived on the craft overnight on the open sea.
"It's extremely unfortunate, and an extremely sad situation for anyone associated - the rescuers and family and friends," Mann said. "This goes to show the dangers associated with attempting to enter the country illegally and taking your life into your hands in this dangerous matter." Our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families."
Coast Guard Lt. Commander Chris O'Neil said searchers had not found any debris indicating that the vessel sank, and no decision had been taken as to how long to continue the search.
"We keep searching until we're confident that we would have found what we were looking for within the search area if it were there," he said.

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