MIAMI – Ismael Hernandez flew a motorized hand glider in March from Cuba to the United States. The 29-year-old pilot said he made the final decision to leave it all behind a day before the flight.
Hernandez said the misery had him feeling “really desperate.” Cubans are dealing with food and medicine shortages and an economy that is in shambles.
The glider had an extra tank of fuel underneath, so they had enough to make it across 90 miles of ocean, from Tarará to South Florida. He was with David Lopez Alfonso.
“It was really tense,” Hernandez said adding that morning was filled with final preparations and jitters.
Crosswinds complicated takeoff.
“I was pretty nervous during take off because the plane was really heavy,” Hernandez said. “In the race to take off, it was really hard to keep the plane straight.”
They had a hand-drawn map. Looking down at what appeared to be 9-foot waves in the Florida Straits was intimidating. They prayed.
Within about two hours and four minutes — which to Hernandez felt like 20 years — they spotted a flag of the United States flying above the rooftops of Key West.
Attorney Giedre Stasiunaite said the men’s courage touched a judge in immigration court, who understood that going back to Cuba meant death. The judge granted them asylum.
“They took extreme risks in coming to the United States in this way,” Statsiunaite said. “What if anything went wrong? What if the wind changed?”