The Miami Herald
August 1, 2001

Wayward pilot takes small plane to Cuba

                                      BY JENNIFER BABSON, CHARLES FORELLE AND
                                      MARTIN MERZER

                                      A novice pilot who once staged his own disappearance from
                                      Nevada and most recently worked at a Pizza Hut near
                                      Marathon's airport in the Florida Keys stole a single-engine
                                      plane Tuesday and crash-landed it near Havana, walking
                                      away dazed, authorities said.

                                      The Monroe County Sheriff's Office identified the wayward
                                      pilot of the solo flight as Milo John Reese, 55. He gained
                                      attention -- and notoriety -- in Reno, Nev., as an
                                      anti-prostitution crusader. In recent
                                      days, he delivered pepperoni pies
                                      for the Pizza Hut in Marathon.

                                      ``Ed, this doesn't feel right,'' Reese
                                      radioed his flight instructor at
                                      Florida Keys Marathon Airport just
                                      before he swept toward the horizon.

                                      It apparently was a reference to
                                      what Reese claimed would be his
                                      first solo landing. And it might have
                                      been. Police said Reese had a
                                      history of mental illness and often
                                      pretended to be a pilot.

                                      Witnesses in Cuba said the plane
                                      attempted to land on a road near
                                      the town of Cojímar, east of
                                      Havana, but hit a rocky patch of
                                      coast, broke its landing gear and
                                      overturned just a few yards from the

                                      The pilot walked away in an
                                      apparent daze. Police took him into
                                      custody, witnesses said.

                                      Fabian Molina Herrera, a 19-year-old student, said the pilot
                                      appeared to have scratches on his arms.

                                      ``He said his name was Juan Miguel, that he was from
                                      Florida and he asked for some water,'' Molina said.

                                      FAMILIAR NAME

                                      Juan Miguel is the name of the father of Elián González, the
                                      shipwrecked boy whose eventual return from South Florida
                                      to Cuba made headlines last year.

                                      The Cuban government did not immediately confirm Reese's
                                      arrival or detention. ``We're in contact with Cuban
                                      authorities,'' said Chris Lamora, a spokesman for the U.S.
                                      State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs. He declined
                                      to comment further.

                                      Reese's motive was not known, but his reputation was.

                                      ``He was not what I considered stable,'' said Rob Grant, who
                                      owns Grant Air Service in Marathon and had rented planes
                                      to Reese -- until earlier this week, when Grant cut him off.

                                      ``He was flaky. As we say in the business, he was flying
                                      with a broken wing.''

                                      Becky Herrin, a spokeswoman for the Monroe County
                                      Sheriff's Office, said Reese has a history of manic
                                      depressive behavior.

                                      His wife, Susan Reese of Reno, told police her husband had
                                      run away from home four times, Herrin said.

                                      When he left most recently, on June 14, he wasn't taking his
                                      medication, she said.

                                      He was staying in room 116 at the 15-room Seaward Resort
                                      Motel in Marathon -- $60 per night, according to the owner.
                                      Deputies who searched Reese's hotel room found a book
                                      titled How to Fly Cessnas, Herrin said.

                                      ``One of the things he does in his episodes is pretend he's a
                                      pilot,'' she said.

                                      TUESDAY'S LUNCH

                                      David Patten, who worked with Reese at Pizza Hut, said he
                                      had lunch Tuesday with the novice pilot. Reese had an order
                                      of french fries and two Budweisers. He asked Patten to
                                      accompany him on a flight to Key West.

                                      ``He didn't say Cuba, no mention of Cuba,'' Patten said. ``I
                                      don't believe he even knew how far it was to Cuba or

                                      The answer: 136 miles.

                                      The white, four-seat Cessna 172 was rented from Paradise
                                      Aviation, according to company officials. The firm is owned
                                      by Ed Steigerwald, who also served as Reese's flight

                                      Steigerwald spent much of Tuesday night being questioned
                                      by the FBI, according to his wife, Ute. Meanwhile, deputies
                                      towed Reese's turquoise Suzuki out of the airport parking

                                      Ute Steigerwald said her husband described Reese as
                                      ``perfectly normal'' -- a description at odds with most others
                                      -- and confirmed that he worked at the Pizza Hut, which sits
                                      along U.S. 1 on the southern flank of the airport.

                                      Grant said Reese was well known around the airport and not
                                      particularly well regarded. He had flown about 15 hours with
                                      Grant Air, until two or three days ago, when Grant stopped
                                      renting planes to him.

                                      ``This guy, as far as I was concerned, was a huge liability,''
                                      Grant said.

                                      In the past, Reese has made headlines in Reno, staging his
                                      own disappearance in 1999 to attract attention to his
                                      anti-prostitution crusade.

                                      Reese apparently tried to make it look as if a brothel owner
                                      was behind his disappearance.

                                      SCHEME UNVEILED

                                      His scheme was discovered when a bank surveillance
                                      camera spotted him making a withdrawal in Sacramento,

                                      Back in Marathon, Ute Steigerwald said Reese ``has flown
                                      for about two weeks, several times a week. He seemed fine,
                                      otherwise my husband would not have let him go on his first

                                      Reese perfectly executed three practice landings -- with his
                                      instructor by his side -- before being allowed to make his
                                      first solo, she said.

                                      She said everything seemed fine until the end of the flight.

                                      ``He told my husband he could not land the plane,'' she said.

                                      ``He tried to talk him down. He told him: `You're fine. You're
                                      100 feet from the runway.' ''

                                      Reese headed for the runway, on a northeastward approach
                                      on a heading of 70 degrees and at an altitude of 100 feet,
                                      witnesses said. But the pilot suddenly pulled up, increased
                                      his speed and turned right, eventually heading southwest
                                      over the Keys -- toward Cuba.

                                      ``He would not answer the radio,'' Ute Steigerwald said. ``He
                                      just stopped responding.''

                                      Bryan Hanson, the manager of Paradise Aviation, said
                                      Reese had logged close to 20 flight hours with his company.

                                      On Tuesday, Reese ``had been up 20 to 30 minutes with the
                                      instructor, and then he turned him loose, and bye-bye, he
                                      was gone,'' Hanson said.

                                      'OH, GOSH'

                                      ``He said softly on the radio something like `Oh, gosh, I'm
                                      scared.' ''

                                      Patten, the co-worker at Pizza Hut, said Reese seemed
                                      bright and literate.

                                      ``I was probably his best friend in town, probably his only
                                      friend,'' Patten said. Still, he could not explain Reese's

                                      Patten: ``Is it possible he did it to be famous?''

                                      A group of U.S. Navy P-3 Orions, on a mission from the
                                      Naval Air Station at Boca Chica in Key West, eventually
                                      made visual contact with the Cessna, according to Navy
                                      spokeswoman Susan Barkley.

                                      ``They did see it and saw that it went into Cuban airspace,''
                                      she said.

                                      Laura Brown, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation
                                      Administration, said the pilot was not required to register a
                                      flight plan with air traffic controllers and would not have been
                                      closely monitored.

                                      ``Small planes follow visual flight rules, which means they
                                      just steer clear of other planes that they see,'' Brown said.

                                      U.S. military officers tracked the plane but did nothing to
                                      precipitate any response from the pilot or from Cuba's
                                      military, a spokesman said.

                                      ``You have to remember, it was going away from the United
                                      States, not toward, so it was just tracked,'' said Maj.
                                      Douglas Martin, a spokesman at the North American
                                      Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado Springs, Colo.
                                      ``Your concern is not as great as something coming toward
                                      the United States.

                                      ``But anything that we see going toward the Cuba area is of
                                      course of interest to us.''

                                      He said no response was seen from the Cubans. ``We noted
                                      that they did not scramble MiGs,'' he said.

                                      Experts said Cuba might return the plane, but Reese will
                                      likely remain in the hands of Cuban authorities. The reason:
                                      no extradition treaty with the United States.

                                      ``What has happened in the past in cases of airliners is that
                                      Cuba has kept the hijackers and supposedly has tried
                                      them,'' said Wayne Smith, a retired U.S. diplomat who
                                      served as chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.
                                      ``Some, we know, have been put out to cut sugar cane.''

                                      Herald staff writers John Barry, Elaine de Valle, Gail Epstein
                                      Nieves, Renato Perez, Nancy San Martin and Luisa Yanez
                                      contributed to this report, as did Herald research editor
                                      Elisabeth Donovan and Herald wire services.