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Four die trying to raft from Cuba

Escape by sea from their communist homeland ended in death for four Cubans, the Coast Guard said Tuesday. Two men died at sea and their bodies were thrown overboard by their companions, a third disappeared overnight and the fourth was dead by the time he reached a Florida Keys hospital.

"It's a hazardous trip, very dangerous," Coast Guard spokesman Luis Diaz said. "At this time of year, the waters are much colder, and exposure has to be a factor."

In the homemade rafts usually used, the journey can take several days.

"The longer they are out there, the more dangerous it is," Diaz said.

Diaz said the Cubans, the latest of dozens this year who have tried the 100-mile-plus journey to freedom, were in two groups on rafts.

Diaz said the two groups were sighted about 8:30 Tuesday morning. Two Cubans were taken off a 6-foot-by-3-foot raft made of plastic foam smeared with tar about 11 miles east of Islamorada, Diaz said.

One, a teen-age boy, was dead on arrival at Mariners Hospital while the other man was in serious condition, Diaz said. He reported that a third passenger was lost at sea overnight.

Their identities weren't immediately available, he said.

A second group of four Cubans was picked up 28 miles east of Islamorada hanging onto an inner tube, Diaz said. They told the Coast Guard that two companions died on the voyage. Their bodies were thrown overboard.

Diaz said the Coast Guard didn't have any other details. The survivors were being interviewed by U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service officers. Cubans arriving by sea are usually freed after immigration processing.

The survivors brought to 66 the number of Cubans who have successfully made the voyage since Jan. 1.