Orestes Lorenzo Perez, the dashing Cuban military pilot who defected last year in a Soviet-built MIG, said Sunday he was either going to return to Cuba and free his wife and two young sons, or die trying.
Lorenzo did not die. Instead, the Cuban major, who is considered a traitor by the government of Fidel Castro, flew an aging six-passenger Cessna 310 on Saturday from Marathon in the Florida Keys to Matanzas in Cuba, where he landed on a crowded road, picked up his wife and sons and returned to the United States. Total time on Cuban soil? About a minute.
"I came in very low, very low, about 10 feet above the waves, and I saw the bridge near Matanzas. I banked hard. I saw a car, a truck and bus on the road," Lorenzo, 36, said Sunday, his eyes red from almost three days without sleep. "There was a concrete barricade. A street sign. I banked again and landed hard, fast. I had one chance to land. One chance. That was it."
Lorenzo's wife, Victoria, 35, and their two sons, Reyniel, 11, and Alejandro, 6, ran to the aircraft. His youngest son was still without shoes Sunday morning. He had lost them running to the plane.
The family had been waiting. Through coded phone calls and with letters and diagrams delivered by friends, Lorenzo's wife and sons knew to be by the side of the Matanzas road Saturday, about an hour before sunset.
After Lorenzo defected, his family, although they had visas, were forbidden to leave Cuba.
Victoria Lorenzo said Sunday that Cuban officials told her she would never leave Cuba and that she should forget her husband, who they told her, at various times, was a traitor, a homosexual or planning to marry another woman. "I never believed them," she said.
After a dramatic takeoff from the same road, the family returned to Marathon, where a handful of friends and supporters met them.
Lorenzo, who now lives in Virginia and was scheduled to return home with his family Sunday night, said he had no assistance from the U.S. government. The pilot said he flew into and out of the United States without being challenged by U.S. authorities.
If Lorenzo had been captured, he said he almost surely would have been imprisoned or executed.