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TOP CUBAN PILOT DEFECTS TO U.S.

Published: Thursday, March 21 1991 12:00 a.m. MST

A Cuban who landed a Soviet-built warplane at a Navy base near here and requested political asylum was identified by another Cuban defector as a top pilot in Fidel Castro's air force.

The pilot was identified as Maj. Orestes Lorenzo Perez, 38, by sources in Washington.Ensign Robin Perkins said the pilot was allowed to land Wednesday at Key West Naval Air Station in Boca Chica after radioing his intentions.

He was turned over to immigration authorities after being interviewed by State Department and Customs officials, Perkins said.

Brig. Gen. Rafael del Pino Diaz, who defected from Cuba in 1987 in a small plane, told Miami Spanish-language station WAQI-AM: "I know Orestes. He was the first in his class. He's one of the best pilots of the Cuban Air Force."

Del Pino was said to be the most significant military defector since Fidel Castro came to power in 1959.

In a rare admission of the defection, Cuba called it "an act of treason." A Navy statement initially identified Perez's plane as a MiG-27BN - a single-seat, single-engine, attack aircraft introduced in the late 1970s.

But Pentagon officials were looking at the possibility it was an older, less advanced MiG-23, said Cmdr. Steve Honda, a Navy spokesman in Norfolk, Va.

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