Miami News

Nov 26, 1975. page 1.


1st Hijackerís Story Checked


By Milt Sosin

Miami News Reporter


History's first hijacker of a plane to Cuba told a U.S. magistrate today he became disillusioned with Fidel Castro but it took him 14 years to get back home.

Antulio Ramirez Ortiz said he served two prison terms in Cuba's notorious Morro Castle and La Cabana prisons for a total of six years during his long stay on the island.

Ramirez Ortiz pleaded for release on his own recognizance so he could look for a job. But Magistrate Peter Palermo said his story would have to be checked out first. Meantime, his $25,000 bail was reduced to $10,000.

Now 49, Ramirez Ortiz testified he went to the Swiss Embassy in Havana to seek his return to the United States and even tried to escape the island by raft, getting more prison time after he was picked up by a Cuban vessel.

Finally, after he was released from his second prison term last August, he was permitted to leave. He took a flight to Kingston, Jamaica on Nov. 11, but he spent 10 days there before he could talk to a U.S. embassy official who permitted him to fly to Miami. The official also tipped off the FBI which was waiting to arrest him when he arrived here Nov. 21.

Ramirez Ortiz hijacked a National Airlines two‑engine plane to Cuba in 1961 -- the first such midair piracy. There was not even a federal charge to cover that specific act at the time. He was charged with assault and transporting a stolen aircraft across state lines.

The NAL flight was en route from Key West to Miami with a stop at Marathon, a trip the airline no longer makes.

When the Cuban missile crisis developed in October of 1962, Ramirez Ortiz said, he "could no longer be in sympathy with Castro."

He went to the Swiss embassy and paid for a plane ticket to Mexico, he said, but then was arrested, and charged with espionage. He was sentenced to three years in Morro Castle.

"After I got out, I tried to figure out a way to leave Cuba," he testified. With another man, whom he did not identify, he built a sailing raft and got to sea for two days. They, spotted a merchant ship ‑‑ but it turned out to be Russian, he said. His companion went aboard but Ramirez Ortiz stayed on the raft. The Russian ship left the area and the companion was never heard from again.

A Cuban fishing boat picked up Ramirez Ortiz the next day and returned him to Cuba, where he was sentenced to three more years for attempting to escape.

Ramirez Ortiz said that from a New York Times account of the hijacking, which he read in Cuba, he realized he was in trouble back home. He told the embassy in Jamaica, he said, that he would probably face charges.

While in Cuba he worked as a general laborer. He had divorced his second wife before he left the United States and married a woman in Cuba in 1969, he said. His wife s left on a Freedom Flight to the United States and is now in California, he said.

††††††††††† His attorney, Michael Osman, told the court that a Miami woman, Marta lbarra, of 525 NE 63rd St., has offered to let the returned hi≠jacker stay in her house until he could get established here.

U.S. Attorney Don Ferguson objected either to rejection of Ramirez Ortiz' bond or his release, even if his story checked out. He said the man had been indicted on charges of a serious crime which carried a substantial prison penalty if convicted. Ferguson also said the prisoner had "no roots" in this community.

But Palermo said, "If this man's story cheeks out . . . I would he inclined to grant the defendant's release on his own recognizance."

Palermo told government officials to check out the story with the FBI and advise the court on Monday, when another hearing will be held.