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Breaking News

Nine Injured, One Dead Found in Cuban Plane Search Area

Aired September 19, 2000 - 2:52 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Once again, our top story, which remains incomplete: we have reports that a merchant ship has rescued nine people and pulled one body from the waters west of Cuba. No confirmation yet on whether these people were aboard that Cuban plane reportedly that disappeared from radar a few hours ago. The area where they reportedly were found is 180 miles south-southwest of Key West, Florida, which would place it about 60 miles from the western tip of Cuba.

Now, if indeed these folks were on the missing plane -- there still are many unanswered questions such as the number of people onboard, we have heard as many as 18 may have been on what we understand was a hijacked plane. That's what Cuba is saying. It's also unclear where the plane may have been headed, it left the city of Pinar del Rio, which is west of Havana, just before 10 o'clock Eastern Time this morning.

Cuban authorities claim the plane usually used for crop dusting was hijacked, but that has not been confirmed. The Coast Guard is headed to the rescue area to help transport survivors to hospitals.

And CNN's Mark Potter is in Miami closely following this story and, Mark, before we had our satellite go kaput, you were talking about the area where the plane was found and where it may have been headed.

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There was a little bit of confusion earlier on as to where exactly this ship is that found the survivors and we now have a clarification of that. It is, as you said, 180 miles -- I think that it's more southwest of Key West, 60 miles west of Cuba, a little north of the Yucatan Peninsula.

The Coast Guard says, for those of you who know the area, that this is in a body of water known as the Yucatan Pass. And for people who have a nautical chart, we can clear this up, very, very easily by giving you the coordinates, and these have not changed. Throughout all the verbal descriptions, the nautical description, the chart description has always stayed the same.

The ship is located at 22 degrees, 20 minutes north, 85 degrees, 35 minutes west. And you see our little chart here, our map here, it's probably a little bit to the west actually of where the arrow comes down, putting it between the western tip of Cuba and the north tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. Now, one thing that we did just hear from the Coast Guard officials here in Miami is that the folks on the ship who rescued the nine people and found the one body -- for a total of 10 who have come out of presumably this aircraft -- people on the ship have told the Coast Guard that there is indeed airplane wreckage in the area where they are. The Coast Guard has not independently been able to confirm this, because it's simply not on the scene yet.

A C-130 aircraft is heading to the area now to confirm the reports that we've all been hearing from the Coast Guard and from this ship, but also to search the area, to circle around to see if they can find anybody else in the water, because, Lou, as you pointed out, we have 10 people accounted for, but there may still be more. A cutter is also heading into the area, a Coast Guard cutter, as well as our rescue helicopters, and the purpose for those, of course, is to get the people off the ship, the vessel that picked them up, and to get them back to somewhere on the U.S. mainland for medical care.

We do not know the condition of the nine people who were rescued, but the presumption is, since one is dead, that they could be critically injured and so the decision is being made whether to bring them to Key West or on to Miami, which probably has a more complete trauma center than you might find in the Florida Keys. So that's the situation now: 10 people are accounted for, nine alive, one dead, west of Cuba, they're aboard a vessel, and the Coast Guard is en route to pick up the people now and to see if there is anybody else in the water.

Lou, back to you.

WATERS: Got time for one quick question. Mark, even for those of us without nautical charts, this position would suggest that the earlier reports of this plane headed for the United States may have been incorrect?

POTTER: Yes, this is outside the area where the Coast Guard originally was searching. They were searching about 60 miles south of the Marqueses Keys, which is in the Key West area, and as one of the Coast Guardsman pointed out to us a short time ago, that is about 120 miles away from where the plane was and the survivors were actually found. The Coast Guard did broaden out its search later on after going to the initial area and not finding anything, so it's within the zone of their second area of search. But you are right, it is nowhere near where the officials were originally told to look.

WATERS: OK, Mark Potter keeping watch in Miami. And Natalie, I am told we'll get more information about all this at 3:30 Eastern Time, that's about 33 minutes from now. The Coast Guard is holding the news conference at Opa-Locka Airport, outside Miami.

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