SEPTEMBER 26, 2016 12:51 PM

Five bodies found along Keys; Coast Guard searches for missing Cuban migrants


Five bodies have been recovered from Florida Keys waters or shorelines since Saturday, possibly victims of a capsized migrant vessel that left Cuba.

None of the five - three men and two women - has been publicly identified.

Three men found alive near Big Pine Key told authorities that about two dozen people were aboard a makeshift boat that departed from Cuba on Sept. 20. The aging boat capsized and sank a day later.

Three bodies were found Saturday
in international waters off the Upper Keys, about 23 miles east of Islamorada. A fourth body was found on a Lower Keys beach Saturday.

The fifth victim, a woman, was discovered Monday near Little Palm Island in the Lower Keys by a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission patrol boat, part of an extensive search by state and federal agencies for survivors or more fatalities.

The woman’s body was not far from Ramrod Key, where a man’s body was found Saturday on a remote beach off mile marker 27.

“The deceased people have not been identified,” said Deputy Becky Herrin, information officer for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. “Their bodies have been turned over to the [county] Medical Examiner’s Office for an autopsy to determine the cause of their deaths, and to attempt to determine their identities.”

A fisherman found the first body, a man, offshore of the Upper Keys around 10:45 a.m. Saturday. An FWC aircraft responding to the area spotted the bodies of a man and a woman near an overturned raft around 2:30 p.m.

At 6 p.m. Saturday, Ramrod Key property owners found a man’s body at the isolated beach. "Detectives say there were no obvious signs of trauma on the man’s body, which was found lying on the remote strip of beach," the Monroe County Sheriff's Office reported. "The dead man had two bottles of water and a small amount of food near him when he was found."

Deputies had searched the area around 6 p.m. Friday after receiving a report of a man on the beach "waving as if to get attention." They could not locate him on Friday.

"It is unknown if the dead man was a Cuban migrant, or if there is some other explanation for him having been found on a remote strip of beach with no vehicle nearby," Becky Herrin said in a Sunday statement.

The U.S. Coast Guard cutter “Robert Yered” and an agency aircraft continued the search Monday.

In August 2008, the badly decomposed bodies of four men were discovered off the Upper Keys. While authorities believed it likely the men had left Cuba, they could not be certain. The investigation lasted eight months before it was confirmed the four were among eight Cuban men who tried to cross the Florida Straits on a raft, during a tropical storm. There is no indication that any of the remaining four survived.

Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206