The Cubana Airlines Flight of November 22, 1963


Peter R. Whitmey

The Fourth Decade, January 1995


      In June of 1976 the Senate Select Committee described in Book V of its report the mysterious delay of a Cubana Airlines flight, not long after the assassination of President Kennedy, originating in Mexico City and destined for Cuba. The reason given for the five-hour delay (from 6:00 to 11:00 p.m. EST), according to information received by the CIA on Dec. 1, 1963, was for the purpose of transporting an “unidentified passenger (who) had arrived at the Mexico city airport in a twin-engine aircraft at 10:30 p.m.” (1) The man had apparently boarded the Cubana flight without going through customs, and traveled to Cuba in the cockpit.

      During the HSCA’s investigation, the Cubana Airlines flight incident was reviewed. The committee ascertained that the Cubana flight had been delayed, but by four hours and ten minutes, not five hours as previously reported. It was also learned that the Cubana flight left Mexico City at 8:30 p.m., an hour before the twin-engine private aircraft arrived, so a transfer of a passenger was not possible. Had such a transfer occurred, the committee felt that it was highly unlikely that it would have gone unnoticed, given the extensive records maintained at the airport. However, for some reason, the committee failed to divulge the name of the mystery passenger who had landed in Mexico City in their report. (2)

      The likely identity of the individual first referred to by the Senate Select Committee as an “unidentified passenger” was revealed in two CIA reports dated Jan. 25 and Jan. 27, 1964, released under the Freedom of Information Act in November 1983. A detailed summary was provided by Henry Hurt in his 1985 book Reasonable Doubt. (3) According to CIA sources, the man’s name was Miguel Casas Saez. He was born in Cuba, and at the time of the assassination was either twenty-one or twenty-seven, 5’5” in height, and weighing 155 lbs. Saez was an ardent admirer of Raul Castro, Fidel Castro’s brother, and was possibly a member of the Cuban intelligence service; he even spoke Russian.

      Much of the information about Saez was provided to the CIA before the assassination, on November 5 and 15, 1963. He had entered the U.S. in Miami in early November using the name “Angel Dominiguez Martinez” on a “sabotage and espionage mission”, according to one CIA source, and had been in Dallas on November 22 with two friends (confirmed by CIA sources inside Cuba), returning to Dallas later that day. Saez apparently had experience with weapons while in the militia, and was described as being “capable of doing anything” by the same source. Further investigation by two men working under the Cuban source determined that Saez had gone from being poorly dressed to well dressed with lots of money, after having disappeared for several weeks.

      Another CIA source, considered reliable, provided further details from Saez’s aunt, who knew him as “Miguelito.” She also confirmed that he had been in Dallas on November 22, had left the U.S. at Laredo for Mexico City and then onto Cuba. The aunt described her nephew as one of “Raul’s men” and “very brave, very brave.”

      Hurt also points out that in late 1964, the CIA informed the FBI that an “untested” source had provided information from a Cuban scientist who had been at the Havana airport late on Nov. 22, 1963. He had noticed a plane with Mexican markings land at the far end of the air field, with two men, whom he recognized as Cuban “gangsters,” emerging from the back door of the administration building. The scientist learned that the flight had originated in Dallas. Were they possibly friends of Saez and co-conspirators in the assassination?

      An intriguing footnote to the Cubana Airlines incident came to my attention in the fall of 1988 during a telephone conversation with Alan Edmunds, a former Maclean’s journalist. (4) He mentioned to me that a small contingent of Canadian and British journalists, including himself, had been granted visas by the Cuban government to cover the trial of two Canadian pilots who had been caught smuggling explosives into Cuba, hidden in cans of papaya juice. (5) The trial was to begin on November 23, 1963, and the reporters arranged to meet “at noon in the bar of Mexico City Airport on November 22.” Their flight to Cuba on Cubana Airlines was scheduled to leave at 2:00 p.m. CST, but they had been warned that “the plane would be held until the last of the refugee passengers had been cleared by U.S. Immigration.” (6)

      While at the bar, Edmunds and his eight colleagues learned that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, and immediately ran for the phones, with seats available on an Eastern Airlines flight to Dallas. However, Edmunds was told to continue on to Cuba, despite the feeling that Castro was behind the assassination, which could likely have resulted in a nuclear attack on Cuba.

      Edmunds recalled that their flight was not called until 9:00 pm—a delay of seven hours—and that they were the only passengers allowed on board. It was pitch black as they were escorted by “a small man with a nervous smile and impeccable New York English…across several hundred yards of tarmac.” They were led up the front steps and seated in what had been “the first class compartment in pre-egalitarian days.”

      After the seat-belt sign went out, Edmunds got up and began walking to the rear of the plane in search of the washroom, which he assumed was in the economy section, separated by a curtain. As he opened the curtain, the Cuban escort, who doubled as the steward, grabbed his arm and abruptly directed him to a washroom in the first class section. However, Edmunds had been able to take note of four to six people in that area of the plane, including two men to his left and a woman to his right.

      Edmunds recalled that years later, possibly in 1978 (more likely 1975, unless he meant the HSCA) a “U.S. Senate Inquiry into the Kennedy assassination had been presented with the theory that Lee Harvey Oswald had been a patsy, and it was a Cuban hit squad that had got Kennedy from the grassy knoll near the book warehouse. They’d driven Hell for Leather to Dallas airport and boarded a scheduled flight to Mexico City. The inquiry had been told that the Cubana Airlines flight to Havana that day had been deliberately delayed so it could fly them back to Cuba before anyone caught on.” Edmunds indicated that someone had suggested the possibility that one of the Canadian journalists aboard that flight might have seen the hit squad, and therefore should be questioned. Although Edmunds states in his manuscript that neither he nor his colleagues were contacted, he did recall during our conversation having been phoned [by someone from the committee], with the expectation of a follow-up interview, which never materialized.

      In his manuscript, Edmunds suggested that, had he taken the theory at all seriously, he “should, in all conscience, have at least phoned Washington.” But then he would have been forced to publicly admit that further investigation on his part might have been expected. In retrospect, Edmunds wondered whether the other passengers were merely rejected refugees being sent back to Cuba, or maybe cabin crew from the previous flight returning home. If not, he facetiously suggested the possibility of having “missed the story of the century” in his “eagerness to get to the washroom.”

      Edmunds’s description of the Cubana flight makes no reference to having observed an incoming private plane or the boarding of a passenger who went directly to the cockpit, although it is conceivable that these events took place prior to the journalists being escorted to the plane. In addition, Edmunds’s recollection of the scheduled and actual time of departure is not consistent with the Senate Committee’s report, nor with the HSCA’s, but there is no indication that Cuban Airlines had more than one flight to Cuba that day. (In fact, Edmunds stated that Cubana Airlines had only one flight per week from Mexico City to Cuba.)

      So we are left with a suspicious, but inconclusive, possibility, that one or more pro-Castro Cubans might have been involved in the assassination of JFK, with or without Lee Harvey Oswald’s knowledge and participation. Even though the CIA had informed the FBI about the observation of a Cuban scientist at the Havana Airport described earlier, on a routing sheet that accompanied the document, someone at the CIA had scrawled the following comment: “I’d let this die its natural death, as the FBI is doing.” The CIA’s source in Cuba had, in fact, died by then. (7)

      As for Saez, no attempt had apparently been made to determine why he had traveled to the U.S., why he happened to be in Dallas on November 22, 1963, why he had abruptly returned to Cuba with apparent assistance that day, why he suddenly came into more money than ever before, and whatever happened to him. Presumably the HSCA was aware of the CIA documents cited by Henry Hurt, but no specific reference was made to Saez in its report. It is also apparent that the Warren Commission was never informed by the CIA about the Cuban connection.




1.      Bernard Fensterwald with Michael Ewing, Coincidence or Conspiracy? (New York: Zebra Books, 1977), pp. 494–495. It should be noted that the authors describe the man as being a twenty-three-year-old “Cuban-American,” with connections to Tampa, Florida, Fair Play For Cuba Committee, who might have been involved in the assassination, according to a CIA source. However, this description clearly applies to Gilberto Policarpo Lopez, whose suspicious movements are described in detail in The Final Assassinations Report (Bantam Books: N.Y.), pp. 136–141.


2.      The Final Assassinations Report (Bantam Books, N.Y.), 1979, p. 136. Note: the Cubana Airline flight is incorrectly stated as having taken place on Nov. 23, 1963, but the report referred to in the footnotes on p. 695 gives the correct date of Nov. 22, 1963.


3.      Henry Hurt, Reasonable Doubt (Henry Holt and Co. N.Y., 1985), pp. 421–23.


4.      I had contacted Edmunds in the course of trying to locate another former Maclean’s writer named Jon Ruddy related to my Richard Giesbrecht research, and through Edmunds was successful (Ruddy died in 1995 in Mexico, as a result of an accident.)


5.      “The Great Cuban Spy Caper” (part one) by William Milne as told to Barbara Moon, Maclean’s, February 22, 1964, pp. 7–8, March 7, 1964, pp. 24–25, 39–45. Also, New York Times, Nov. 24, 1963, p. 25 and New York Times, Dec. 11, 1963, p. 11.


6.      Alan Edmunds, “Airlines to Avoid: Cubana,” sent to me on Jan. 22, 1990; it was to be published in a Canadian travel magazine, although I don’t know if it ever was.


7.      Hurt, Reasonable Doubt, p. 423.



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