May 3, 2006

French fliers spark security scramble in Florida

By Laura Myers

KEY WEST, Florida (Reuters) - Two French adventurers in an
ultralight plane touched off a security scare on Wednesday when
they flew across the Florida Straits from Cuba and made an
unauthorized landing in Key West.

Agents from the Border Patrol, Customs and the FBI rushed
to the Florida Keys tourist town's airport with lights flashing
when the tiny, zebra-striped two-seater touched down.

Customs officials later learned the homemade plane carried
French bush pilot Alexis Peltier, founder of the Monaco-based
environmental group "Wings for Earth," who picked up the
ultralight in South America at the start of a journey through
North America, Greenland, Europe and Africa.

The plane's fuel tank is so small that the pair have to
land often to refill.

"We were just flying from Chile to Africa. It's a long
story," Peltier told Reuters before agents whisked him away for

Peltier, 42, and his companion, Yves Stindel, 61, another
French national, had stopped in Cuba for fuel and were looking
for more in Key West, U.S. officials said.

"There was never any threat and there was no attempt to
avoid detection," Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman
Jennifer Connors said. No criminal charges have been filed
against the men, although they could face an administrative
complaint for failing to file a flight plan.

U.S. authorities tend to react quickly to unidentified
aircraft coming from Cuba, at odds with the United States since
Cuban President Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution.

Over the years, numerous hijacked or stolen planes have
been flown across the 90-mile (145-km) passage between Cuba and
Key West by Cubans bent on defecting.