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US Pilot in Cuban Custody - 2001-08-01

Cuba is revealing few details about a U.S. citizen who was taken into custody outside Havana Tuesday after stealing a small airplane in Florida and flying to the island nation.

In a terse statement, Cuba's Foreign Ministry said John Reese has been given medical attention for injuries suffered when the four seater Cessna aircraft crash-landed on a rocky beach east of Havana. No further details were provided.

Cuban authorities detained Mr. Reese, 55, shortly after he emerged from the plane in a dazed state, asking local on-lookers for water.

Earlier, Mr. Reese, a piloting student, took to the skies above the Florida Keys aboard a rented plane for his first solo flight. Instead of returning to the airport in Marathon Key, he suddenly veered the plane in a southwesterly direction and headed out over the Florida Straits.

Mr. Reese initially radioed that he was afraid to land. He then ignored calls from the control tower and a U.S. Navy plane that followed the Cessna until it reached Cuban airspace, approximately one hour after leaving Florida.

State Department officials said they are pursuing the matter through the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.

Mr. Reese's motivations remain unclear at this point. Several associates have suggested he is mentally unstable and separated from his wife, who lives in Reno, Nevada.