Youngest Cuban shipwreck survivor released from hospital
Six more bodies recovered
November 26, 1999
MIAMI (CNN) -- Five-year-old shipwreck survivor Elian Gonzalez is staying with his father's cousins in Miami now that he has been released from the hospital, one day after being plucked from the ocean.
"It's a miracle that he survived," said Dr. Yvonne Rutherford of Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital. "He has skin burn and he was dehydrated and you can estimate he probably went at least a day or two without water."
As the sad-eyed boy left surrounded by relatives, the bodies of six more people were recovered from the waters off Florida's east coast -- all believed to have been passengers aboard a 16-foot aluminum boat that sank Tuesday carrying 13 Cubans to Florida.
A Coast Guard cutter and helicopter searched late into Friday in the waters off the coast of Fort Pierce, Florida, about 115 miles north of Miami.
The six bodies found in that area earlier Friday included two women who appeared to be Hispanic, the Coast Guard said. The six brought the total number of dead recovered from the sinking to seven.
Only three people have been found alive, having survived at sea clinging to inner tubes, including Elian, who was found by fishermen.
The two adult survivors, who made the final leg of the journey from Cuba to Florida in an inner tube, told police they paid a smuggler $1,000 apiece to help them get to the United States, a spokesman for the Coast Guard said Friday.
The ill-fated voyage started last weekend, the two survivors said, when they and 12 other people departed the Cuban port of Cardenas in the province of Matanzas. As the boat approached the coast of Florida, they said, it developed engine trouble and turned back to Cuba, where it was repaired. One of the passengers, a child, remained in Cuba.
Once again, the boat set out for the Florida coast, this time with 13 aboard, survivors said. As the still overloaded boat neared Florida, its engines stopped. Rough seas capsized the boat, which the passengers managed to turn upright. Once the passengers were back on board, the boat started taking on water and slowly sank, survivors said.
Seven people disappeared beneath the water almost immediately, the survivors said. There were just two inner tubes for the remaining six people. Survivors said that, as the hours wore on, some people became delirious.
The two adult survivors, a 33-year-old unidentified man and 22-year-old woman identified as Arianne Horta, made their way to shore in one of the inner tubes. They were discovered Thursday morning by fishermen preparing to set out from a dock off Key Biscayne, an island about five miles from downtown Miami.
The two were taken to a hospital and treated for dehydration and sunburn.
Later Thursday morning, fishermen three miles off the coast of Fort Lauderdale spotted Elian in the second inner tube, less than 30 miles from where the first two survivors were found.
"The first thing that came to my mind was, 'How did he survive by himself when he's only 5,'" said the boy's cousin, Marisleysis Gonzalez. "The only thing I could probably say is that it's just a miracle -- God wanted him here for freedom."
U.S. Border Patrol Deputy Chief Mike Sheehy said Friday that all three survivors will be allowed to stay in the United States. Typically, Cubans who are picked up at sea are returned to Cuba.
The body of a woman between 50 and 60 years old was recovered Thursday five miles to the south of where the boy was discovered. Rope found with the woman's body was similar to rope on Elian's tube, authorities said, indicating the two had been together on the same flotation device.
Elian's mother's and her common-law husband were presumed to have drowned, a Coast Guard spokesman said. The man, who is believed to have lived in the United States, organized the trip, the Border Patrol said.
This year, more than 1,200 Cubans have been intercepted at sea trying to make their way to U.S. shores; another 2,000 have made it. Authorities say there is no way to determine how many people have died trying to make the trip from Cuba to the United States.
Correspondent Pat Neal contributed to this report.
Three Cubans survive sinking; others missing
U.S. State Department
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