The plan was apparently masterminded by Konstantin Panit, 38, a Romanian expatriate who has a wife in Hallandale, Fla. Comaneci explained to London's Mail on Sunday that Panit, whom she has known for four years, rented an Audi and on the night of Nov. 27 drove her and six other would-be defectors from Bucharest to a lonely road 10 miles from the Hungarian border. "It was midnight when we started walking through mud and open countryside. We were stumbling. Often we crawled through water and ice," she told the Mail.
Panit crossed the border by car so he could pick them up once they reached Hungary. A friend of Panit's guided them through the night on the Romanian side. They saw no border guards, but they heard watchdogs barking in the distance. After six hours they at last saw the spiked silhouette of a barbed-wire fence against the sky. This was the border, and they passed through an opening in the fence and entered Hungary near the small town of Mez�gyan. From there they managed to find Panit and continued their flight to Austria and then the U.S.
Her ordeal was over—at least for now. Monday night, Comaneci arrived in Miami in. the company of Panit and said she intends to settle in South Florida, which she has visited before. The years and the miles have taken their toll on the dark-eyed child of 1976. But whatever she has done since and whatever she might do next, the world was delighted to have her back.