Ponce de Leon had been accused by hijacking survivors and his own family, as being the mastermind behind the takeover of Cubana flight 495 on Nov. 1 1958.
The cargo hold of the plane had been secretly loaded with a cache of weapons for Fidel Castro's revolution, and it crashed at Nipe Bay, Cuba. A total of 14 people died in the crash.
His wife had told NBC Miami that he had cancer. When NBC Miami went to his house for comment, his comment was: “It was 50 years ago.”
He served in the U.S. Air Force and then joined Castro’s army after the plane crash. He returned to the U.S. in the early 1990s, and even though authorities investigated him in connection to the hijacking, he was never charged with anything.
He was buried in a U.S. veterans cemetery with full military honors, according to the South Florida National Cemetery in Lake Worth.
Mike Medrano, the son of the one of the plane’s pilots who died in the crash, said he was shocked by the death.
"Stunned, mind boggling. I wish he'd had lived long enough to be indicted,” Medrano said.
Patricia Pita, Medrano’s sister, said she would’ve liked more.
This is what God had planned for him. I wanted more, like prosecution,” she said.
In 2008, the U.S. Attorney's Office announced that he wouldn’t be prosecuted, but in recent weeks as the NBC Miami story was being prepared, FBI agents and representatives of the U.S. Attorney's Office mounted an intense investigation. Sources close to the story say the case was about to be wrapped up.
"The U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI were actively investigating these allegations. The events surrounding the 1958 hijacking were a true human tragedy and cannot be easily forgotten," said U.S. Attorney Wilfred Ferrer.