‘I feel good’: Cuban pilot who landed in Everglades on Soviet-era biplane granted asylum

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – A Cuban pilot who made a daring escape from the island on a Soviet-era biplane was granted asylum, he and his attorneys announced Friday.

Ruben Martinez Machado landed the plane at the Dade-Collier Training and Transition Airport in the Everglades on Oct. 21.

“I feel good,” he said at a news conference Friday in Coral Gables.

For the first time, Martinez Machado detailed his fear-filled flight to freedom.

“It was three hours, approximately three hours, I was very afraid,” he said in Spanish. “I didn’t sleep the night before.”

Martinez Machado said he flew low in order to avoid detection. Salt water in his eyes and on the plane’s windshield, he said he feared his engine would fail.

“I got here with my eyes red,” he said. “A lot of sea salt got stuck to my glasses.”

Martinez Machado could no longer live in Cuba, he said, especially after the oppression he saw following the historic island-wide protests.

That’s on top of two incidents with the government, one where he was arrested, detained and falsely accused of stealing gasoline.

“His life was in danger before he left Cuba,” immigration attorney Eduardo Soto said.

After the incredible journey, he hopes to starting a new life.

“He is a very, very high-level pilot and we are sure and I am confident he will be able to at some point fly within the United States and elsewhere,” Soto said.

Martinez Machado plans to head to Houston to reunite with relatives. But his mother, sister and grandmother remain on the island.

In the short term, Martinez Machado said a job would be great.

But the first thing he did after leaving federal detention Friday?

Grab a nice, cold beer.

About the Author:

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba.