A tale of four would-be Cuban hijackers
Tampa, Fla. — The Federal Bureau of Investigation has not been able to find a conspiracy to tie together the current surge of airliner hijackings which has caused airports throughout Florida to tighten security.
"Washington is interested in the possibility of a conspiracy," said Philip A. McMiff, chief of the Fbi's Tampa office. "But what we have learned to date is that there was no conspiracy conceived in Havana prior to when these people came over. These are boatlift people who have left their families behind and now are suffering from homesickness and are having trouble adjusting to life in the United States."
The case of four Cuban men charged with air piracy in Tampa can be pieced together from federal allegations and from accounts given by relatives who had taken them in.
Eugenio DelCampo and Nelson Gonzalez made the 110 mile hop from Cuba's Mariel Harbor to Key West sometime in May, and they were taken to a refugee center in Ft. Chaffee, Ark. there they sat for nearly a month until they were able to contact relaties in Tampa who agreed to sponsor them.
Mr. Gonzalez had been in prison in Cuban for various offenses, including car theft, according to the US attorney. Mr. DelCampo apparently had no criminal record. In Cuba he worked in constuction and as a truck driver. Both seemingly had little education and could speak no English.
They were sponsored by an aunt and uncle, Roman and Hilda Gonzalez, who had come to Tampa 12 years ago after fleeing Cuba.
"Eugenio said he was homesick," Mrs. Gonzalez said through an interpreter. "He said he missed his mother and brother. They had left Cuba because of the system. Anyone who has shown displeasure with communism was herded onto the boats. We had years to think about our escape. For them it happened very quickly, like a herd of cattle being loaded onto a train.
"Nelson said he wa fine here," she said, "But I don't know if those were lies to cover up what he really felt."
Nelson Gonzalez never did find a job in Tampa, but Mr. DelCampo worked at a local furniture warehouse. Later they both were hired to chop sugar cane in south-central Florida, but that did not last long.
"On Thursday they called here," Mrs. Gonzalez said. "They wanted our son to go down and pick them up. They said they had gotten into a fight with the foreman and had gotten kicked out."
When Gonzalez and DelCampo arrived back in Tampa, they had two other refugees with them -- Antolin Acevedo and his brother, Avrelio.
They, too, had come over to Key West on the boatlift in May. The US attorney says Antolin Acevedo admitted to being in prison at the time he was told to come to the United States. But he denied that when he appeared before a US magistrate.
All four were talking in the Gonzalez home Saturday and decided that they were going to fly to New Jersey and look for work, Mrs. Gonzalez says. But she said the four men bought tickets to Miami from a local travel agent and headed for tampa International Airport allegedly carrying four jugs filled with gasoline in two tote bags.
Ticket agents and security guards at the airport had been warned to watch closely for potential hijackers. Already that week six airplanes had been hijacked to Cuba from Florida airports, and most of the hijackers have used gasoline as a weapon.
Ticket agents at the Eastern Arilines counter decided these four men fit the hijacker behavioral patterns they had been taught the day before, and they alerted security guards. Two fo the Cubans were able to get through because they were not carrying gasoline, but when the carry-on luggage for the other two went through the checkpoint, the guards could see four suspicious objects. When they opened the bags, they could smell the gasoline.
"We were desperate to see our family in Cuba," Avrelio Acevedo pleaded through an interpreter to the US magistrate when he appeared Monday with the others for a preliminary hearing.
The judge set bond at $1 million.
As the four accused hijackers appeared before the magistrate, airline officials throughout Florida were making plans to further tighten security.
Selected flights have a plain-clothes sky marshal aboard as well as a uniformed Federal Aviation Administration police officer. Two officers have a better chance of handling hijackers than a lone one, an FAA official says.
The added restriction meant more unhappy travelers and airport officials braced themselves for a new avalanche of complaints.