Hero pilot’s last wish to revisit Mallow fulfilled by daughter

TEARS filled the eyes of a Mexican teacher as she fulfilled the wish of her late father, Captain Ruben Ocaña.

He piloted a Gulfstream 11 executive jet aircraft to an emergency landing at Mallow Racecourse on April 18, 1983.

Captain Ocaña had hoped to revisit Mallow, but he sadly died early last year, aged 81, without realising his dream.

However, his daughter Mariana honoured her father’s wish yesterday with an emotional visit to the 200-acre riverside racecourse.

“In the name of my father I want to thank you and the people of Mallow for the way you received him at the time,” she told a group of locals at he racecourse.

“He was made to feel so welcome here even though he was over 5,000 miles away from home. The people were so friendly and kind. That was the memory he had up to the last day of his life.

“My visit is very special to me and very emotional and in some ways I know that my father is among us today,” she said.

Mariana was accorded a civic welcome by Mayor Willie O’Regan and Mallow Town Council, in appreciation of the pilot’s professionalism.

Mary Kelly, marketing and sales manager, Cork Racecourse, greeted her on arrival and Gerry Callinan gave her a firsthand account of the jet’s emergency landing, which he witnessed from his service station nearby.

Denis Sheehan, who drove Captain Ocaña and his crew while they were in Mallow, and his wife, Mary, shared their memories with her.

The 15-seat luxury jet piloted by Captain Ocaña was on a flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Munich in Germany.

It was prevented by fog from making a refuelling stop at Shannon Airport and was diverted to Cork, but with fuel running out, the twin engine aircraft was forced to make an emergency landing at Mallow Racecourse.

Four passengers and a crew of four on board were uninjured and only slight damage was caused to the aircraft and racecourse.

Captain Ocaña, who became a folk hero for having averted a potential tragedy, re-visited Mallow in 1984, with his wife, Wanntrant, and three daughters, Mariana, Silvana and Roxana.

He intended to return to meet the many friends he made when he and his crew were stranded in the town for 39 days after the emergency landing. That was because insurers, Air Claims of America and Lloyds of London, insisted on a £150,000 runway being laid to get the jet airborne again.

“I had heard that the Irish people were friendly but after landing in such special circumstances in Mallow, I now know it is really true,” he said later.

Some 2,000 people turned out to see the plane eventually take off on the first leg of its 8,800km journey back to Mexico City.

Captain Ocaña piloted Foxtrot Oscar Uniform down the runway at 200km/h for a perfect take-off in just 18 seconds, taking back to Mexico with him memories he cherished to the end of his life.

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