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August 11, 2013

Pilot’s family celebrates 60th anniversary of Duncan landing

DUNCAN —

It was Aug. 11, 1953, when a dangerous electrical storm and rainstorm was over Duncan. In the air, a six ton U.S. Air Force T-33 jet, piloted by a scared 23-year old man, had to make an emergency landing. 
Luckily for Lt. Domenick Marrara Jr., and co-pilot Lt. Robert G. Grandchamp, they spotted the beacon light of the Duncan Municipal Airport. 
Only one problem. On that night 60 years ago, the airport was barely more than a grass strip landing, not really equipped to accomodate an incoming T-33 jet at 120-mile-an-hour speed.
The pair were in flight on their way from Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, Colo., to Perrin Field in Sherman, Texas.
Marrarra was still in training, but knew they wouldn’t make their destination. 
Over the years, his daughter, Peggy Neilson, said he has shared the story many times. Today, they will celebrate the 60th anniversary of that emergency landing in Duncan. For Neilson, she said there are many people to thank for her father being alive. 
“He attempted to get above the storm, but it was so high and he needed to put the plane down because he would not make it to his destination,” she shared by telephone earlier this week. “It was a St. Elmo fire that knocked out their instruments.”
Neilson said her father had picked up a weak signal of an air strip, “and rattled the windows of the Halliburton Air Field hoping someone would realize he was in trouble. Those Halliburton employees astutely and quickly came to his aid, lining their cars along the tiny landing strip so he would know where to go. It was a miracle that dad didn’t crash at the end of this airstrip which was built for small aircraft and not a T33 jet!”

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