Thirty-eight survivors of a capsized Cuban refugee vessel arrived here today, bandaged from burns and weeping for their dead companions.
A boy of about eight, wrapped in a blanket and carried in the arms of a husky Marine, was the first survivor brought out of the transport helicopter at Boca Chica Naval Air Base. Laid out on a stretcher on the sun-baked runway, the boy looked toward a group of reporters and, in a feeble voice, cried "Viva!"
It was a triumphant echo of the thousands of refugees who have risked their lives on the rough seas of the Florida Straits to arrive here shouting, "Viva la Libertad."
The capsizing of the 36-foot Olo Yumi, which claimed the lives of 14 people yesterday, prompted the commandant of the Coast Guard, Adm. John B. Hayes, to decry "the continued lack of regard for human life by Cuba."
Charging that Cuban officials are forcibly overloading American boats leaving Mariel harbor, Hayes said the Cuban government is "courting disaster" and predicted that the situation "may soon result in a marine tradegy involving hundreds of lives."
Rear Adm. Benedict Stabile, commander of the 7th Coast Guard District, set a telex message to Cuban authorities protesting that "this marine tragedy happened because too many persons were put on board the small boat. The Coast Guard again urges the border guard to prevent future disasters by not allowing boats departing Mariel to be overloaded."
Coast Guard Cmdr. Samuel Dennis said administration officials are "discussing" the possibility of transferring refugees from unsafe vessels onto U.S. Navy carriers or Coast Guard ships just outside Cuban water. Such a measure would prevent overloaded boats from making the dangerous 110-mile crossing.
Salvador Ojeda, 26, a Miami tow-truck driver, said he had taken the Olo Yumi, owned by his mother, to fetch seven relatives from Cuba, including two uncles and their families. He brought them back, but Cuban officials also forced him to take on more than 30 other passengers -- part of a mass expulsion of Cubans disillusioned with the Castro regime.
"We had to take them, or we couldn't get our family," he said, hugging his little blond nephew on the bus seat beside him.
Asked if he thought the flotilla should stop, as President Carter has ordered, he said, "When you got family living in such a bad place you do whatever you can to get them out."
All of Ojeda's relatives survivied, he added.
According to Ojeda and other survivors, the boat began to have engine trouble as it left Mariel. The seas were rough, and five-foot waves began breaking over the boat. The passengers, half of whom were not wearing life preservers panicked and rushed toward the stern. The boat quickly capsized, about 28 miles north of Mariel.
The accident occurred at about 8:30 a.m. Saturday, and it was not until three hours later that the Coast Guard, after sighting the sinking boat from a helicopter, arrived on the scene with the cutter Courageous to rescue survivors.
By then, many had received severe burns from floating in a sea of gasoline as they clutched the sinking boat and scattered debris.
"It was very gruesome," said Navy flight surgeon Paul Vanlith. "It was very hard to get their clothes off because their skin came off with their clothes."
Vanlith treated the survovors after they were flown to the USS Saipan, an 832-foot Navy amphibious assault ship, detailed from the war game off Guantanamo Naval Base.
"It thought I was going to lose two of them," he said. "The little boy looked grey. One lady had inhaled gasoline. They were just about out."
Four refugees were transported by ambulance to the Florida Keys State Community Hospital. The others -- some crying, some looking dazed -- made the trip in a yellow school bus.
Fourteen-year-old Ibis Geurrero Hernandez held an impromptu news conference.
"I came with my father, my mother, my two sisters and my grandmother," she said Spanish, calmly staring into the television cameras. "They drowned."
Ibis, dressed in baggy jeans and a work shirt lent by the military, said she was the only member of her family wearing a life jacket.
Reports from American boat captains in Mariel Saturday indicated that the Cubans were continuing to overload vessels, but were preventing them from leaving until the 20-knot winds sweeping the straits subsided.
Only four boats, carrying 143 refugees, arrived this morning, bringing the 28-day total to 56,091. But, 30 to 40 more boats were en route from Cuba, in dangerous weather conditions the Coast Guard said. And by today, boats again were reported leaving Mariel.
One Captain, waiting to leave Mariel Saturday, reported over the radio: "That little lobster boat there -- it had about 40 people on it. It sat so far down in the water that you couldn't even see the name on the stern."