independent

Saturday 25 October 2014

Pilot's girl touches down

SHARON WHELTON

Published 08/07/2010 | 08:58

Captain Ruben Ocana, inset right, taking off from ‘ Mallow Airport’ in 1983 and his daughter Marianne, inset left, who touched down at the racecourse this week.

Mayor Willie O'Regan and Marianna Ocana share a lighter moment as he welcomes her to Mallow racecourse to remember the emergency landing by her father, Capt. Reuben Ocana, in 1983 — 'THE last thing that my dad spoke of was Mallow, and he asked me to come here just before he died, two years ago."

Those were the words of Mexican woman Marianna Ocana this week as she paid an emotional visit to Cork Racecourse in Mallow, scene of of a dramatic emergency landing in 1983 that drew the eyes of the world to North Cork.

In April of 1983, Mallow racecourse became an emergency airfield when a Mexican Gulfstream II business jet made a precautionary landing.

Captain Ruben Ocana was flying the luxury, 15seater jet from New Jersey to Munich when strong winds added an hour to the flight time and caused a drain on fuel.

Air traffic control directed him to Cork Airport but before he could reach it the fuel reserves reached dangerously low, and he was forced to land the jet on the racecourse in Mallow.

Not only did the dramatic incident make headlines across the world, it sparked a relationship between Mallow and Ruben Ocana that was to last for the rest of his life.

Now, 27 years on, his daughter, Marianna (who was only 13 at the time of the incident) returned to Mallow this Wednesday as it has been "a very special place" to her.

"Now that I have the chance to be here, I want to be here and in some way, I know that he is with us here today," Marianna, now aged 39, said as she toured the racecourse and met locals who were involved in the incident all those years ago.

Local man Gerard Calnan witnessed the jet landing as he was opening his service station at the time. "The incident occurred at 8.10am and it was a lovely morning," Gerard said. "He (the pilot) was lucky that the ground was good and solid."

"I saw the plane come down, and I got a fright due to the size of the aircraft. I phoned the Gardai, stating that there seemed to be an emergency landing, and they sent out the ambulance and fire brigade."

Another Mallow man, Denis Sheehan, transported the unhurt passengers to Shannon following the landing, where they resumed their journey to Munich. Denis and his wife, Mary also presented Marianna with articles and pictures from the time of the landing.

A temporary tarmacadam runway of almost 3,000 feet in length was laid to enable the aircraft to leave five weeks later in May. Gerard said that the runway, which was built by the Irish Sugar Company, had to be dug 23 feet deep due to insurance purposes, costing in the region of €200,000.

Marianna said that before the landing her father was very scared as he thought that he wasn't going to make it. "My dad was so happy when he was here," Marianna said, "and had such great memories in his life."

"He told us everything about Mallow. From the moment he opened the doors of the aircraft, and the way he was treated, I have a lot of stories to tell. I have such strong feelings for Irish people."

'The Runway', a new movie loosely based on the incident in 1983, is due to be premiered in Galway as part of its Arts Festival this year.

"I was due to fly to Madrid this Friday," Marianna said, "but now I am trying to change my plans so that I can make the film premiere in Galway instead."

Mayor of Mallow Willie O'Regan and his fellow town councillors presented Marianna with a framed picture to mark her visit to the town this week.

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