Isabel Leyva Cuba Escape Raft 9.12.91.jpg


From the album:

My Wife Isabel

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Cuban University Professor Rescued: My Wife Isabel C. Leyva the Day She was Rescued Following her Escape from Communist Cuba: She and four others were adrift for five days and nights in mostly rough seas with ever present sharks. She would later become a naturalized U.S. Citizen and become a school teacher. She taught Russian for six or seven years in Las Vegas. Relocating to San Diego North County Coastal in 1999, Isabel taught Spanish at Oceanside High School until her major stroke on September 1, 2007; she was only 44 years old. A brilliant linguist with a B.A. in English Literature and a B.A. in Russian Literature, sadly can no longer read her beloved classic novels in Spanish and Russian. Nor can she write but a few letters. She can however speak some words and phrases at times. She and I, husband Rick, met at church on September 2, 2001. We married on September 26, 2005. We celebrated our second wedding anniversary while Isabel was in the hospital for 40 days following her stroke.


From the Miami Hearld Neuevo, September 13, 1991, Isabel's 29th birthday.


KEY WEST, Florida-

Alberto Lares had spent over three hours flying over the Straits of Florida on Wednesday morning when he saw her.


"I was about to give up and something told me to look right," said Lares, Argentine pilot 22 years of Operation Brothers to the Rescue, a volunteer group that since May has flown between Florida Keys and Cuba in search of rafters.

"Turn" he said, "and there it was."

It was an inflatable raft. On board, three men and two women fleeing from Cuba. Waving rags. He moved his arms. Blowing kisses.

They were, according to the Coast Guard, Isabel Leyva Escobar(now Isabel Christina Escobar Leyva-Griffith,,

a university professor who turns 29 on Friday, Osvaldo Morales Pena, pharmacist of 24 years, Amanda Castellanos

Hernandez, photographer, 29, Jenny de Las Mercedes Segarra Miyares, engineer, 23, and Daniel Bravo Romero, technical, 21.

Los Hermanos al Rescate the spotted at 11:45 am.

"I feel like I want to jump up and down but there is no room for that," Lares said radio Jose Basulto, president of Brothers to the Rescue. "You know how that is."


It was the mission number 109, Brothers to the Rescue. The raft was number 32. And there were 88 boat people found at sea by the group.

* * *

The day began before dawn in the Kendall-Tamiami Airport. In one room, Guillermo Lares, brother of Albert, gave instructions to the group of drivers and passengers who fly in all three planes of Brothers to the Rescue.

If there is a raft, only a pilot should contact the Coast Guard to avoid confusion, Lares said.

"Good luck everybody."

Needed it.

"Four days ago there was a group of about six," Basulto story. "I notice the family had already left. After the morning we were told that they had arrested 30 people over."

It was the third time! was the same in a month. The Cuban authorities, I conclude Basulto, have intensified patrolling its coasts.

Their mission began Wednesday with a tragic note. At 9:45 am, Alberto Lares sights his first raft in the four months that have flown with this group.

It was a piece of wood as 6 feet long, tied with ropes. It was 17 miles off the coast of Cuba, empty.

"I was so disappointed," Lares said later. "It was just beginning. It's like starting a football match with 2-0."

The discovery of empty rafts is the most difficult for the drivers.

"It's very sad. It is a direct evidence before you of the death of a number of human beings," said Basulto. "It's an epitaph."

* * *

Basulto and his friend Billy Schuss decided to found Brothers to the Rescue after participating in the Flotilla of the Brotherhood last year. Wanted to do something more to show solidarity with their compatriots in Cuba.

About 150 pilots - German, American, Argentine! Cubans, Chileans, Nicaraguans, Uruguay and Venezuela - are members of Brothers to the Rescue, the most active but are only about 30. Fly on Saturdays and Sundays and sometimes on weekdays.

So far, Basulto said the group has spent about $ 50.000. The money comes from donations from organizations and individuals.

"It remains standing," Basulto said, "thanks to the old men and old women of Hialeah who send us 10 to 15 pesos."

The pilots tracked the Straits of Florida from east to west. Penetrate Cuban airspace. Monitor the keys near the coast of the island, where sometimes stop some rafters in search of fresh water.

During the missions of three to four hours, the pilots talk by radio with fishermen, commercial pilots, boat captains, who wish them good luck, give them information and ask for help.

The pilots talk by radio and use the word repeatedly as a key gull.! Gulls, Basulto said, flying slowly, looking down.

"That's what we do."


With eyes fixed on the ocean fly for hours and hours, usually within 500 feet tall. Set eyes on each rock, each group of algae, each small boat.

When he spotted a raft, note their position. If passengers are, call the Coast Guard. And celebrate. Approach the plane within 25 feet of water and release a balloon, a bottle with instructions and a package tine parrot green water.

Then, making circles in the air, awaiting the arrival of the Coast Guard.

Before the end of each mission, give thanks.

"Thanks for having spotted these rafters, Lord, and bring to a land of freedom and saving lives," Guillermo Lares prayer on Wednesday, after landing at the airport in Key West.

"Our work is done once found," Basulto said. "But we are always glad to meet you."

Sometimes, rafters and pilots are reunited.

*! * *

The group of boat people rescued on Wednesday came out in Havana on Saturday at 10:30 pm, a black 10-foot boat, said Coast Guard Lt. Charley Diaz, commanding the Coast Guard cutter Petrel.

The four wore rowing boat, diving equipment, life jackets and a hat. When rescued, they had no water or food, Diaz said. On board the Petrel celebrated their arrival with meat, rice and beans.

Seven hours after hearing the engine of the Cessna Alberto Lares, the five Cubans arrived in Key West.

"They were all in good condition," said Diaz, "but one woman, Jenny, was a bit weak."

The Brothers to the Rescue donations can be sent to PO Box 430846 Miami, FL 33243-0846. They can call 477-1868 24 hours.



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