LAST Friday evening’s meeting at Cork made the RTÉ evening news but it wasn’t for the racing.

Among the crowd was the family of a Mexican pilot, Captain Ruben Ocana, who safely brought a Gulfstream II jet to ground in an emergency landing at the racecourse 40 years ago. They had returned to the track to scatter his ashes there.

It was also the first meeting at the track since former trainer Eoghan O’Grady officially took on the racecourse manager role. He said: “There as a party of 35 over from Spain and Mexico. Captain Ocana’s family picked a spot close to the track to scatter the ashes and we had a ceremony just after the last race, before the air show. This was the first Ocana Festival weekend in the area and hopefully it will continue and the races will be a part of it.”

It was huge news in May 1983 when Captain Ocana was forced to make an emergency landing of his 15-seater jet at Mallow. He was carrying four business people from New Jersey to Munich and was due to re-fuel in Shannon, but it was fogbound.

Captain Ocana knew he did not have enough fuel to divert to Cork. Instead, air traffic control directed him to Mallow, where he landed on the racecourse’s home straight at around 8.15am. Miraculously, there were no injuries and remarkably no damage to the jet either. The jet was valued at the time at £8 million.

“I will be out of here once the ground dries out,” Captain Ocana told reporters. But the plane’s insurers, Lloyd’s of London, had other ideas. They insisted on the construction of a 1,000-metre runway at a cost of almost a quarter of a million pounds.

And, while that was being done, Captain Ocana made the most of his celebrity status. He stayed in Mallow’s Central Hotel and made many friends. He even judged the Rakes of Mallow beauty competition.

After 39 days in Mallow, the bespoke airstrip at Mallow Racecourse was complete.

Captain Ocana and his crew fired the engines and took off safely, heading west, before doubling back for a low-altitude flypast, much to the delight of the 2,000 people who had blocked traffic on the main Mallow to Killarney road for several hours to witness the event.

Captain Ocana subsequently returned to Mallow twice with his wife and family and expressed a desire to do so again prior to his death, aged 81, in 2009.

Now his four daughters said they were fulfilling his wish to return for good. Mariana Ocana said: “It is very important to us because we know our father always wanted to come back to Ireland. Unfortunately, he died before fulfilling his last wish but, in some way, we are bringing him back to Ireland today.

“He was an experienced pilot. He never had an emergency landing before, or an event similar to this one before and what happened here 40 years ago changed his life and ours too, in some ways.”

“He was always remembering Mallow. He had fond memories of Mallow and its people and the time he spent here. He was always very grateful and very thankful for all the hospitality and the empathy and the solidarity that the people showed to him. That is why we are here. We want to express how thankful we are for all you have done for our dad.”

Surely Michael O’Leary will name a horse after him!