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The Chilean Margot Duhalde, Chile’s first war pilot who flew fighter-bombers to defend France from the Nazis during World War II, died Monday at the age of 97, the victim of a tumor, her family reported.
Duhalde died at the Chilean Air Force hospital, three months after a tumor was detected in one of his eyes, which was complicated despite undergoing intense treatment, said Mirta Carrillo Duhalde, Margot’s niece.
“At the end of October, he presented some discomfort in the eyesight and that resulted in his having a tumor, he underwent treatments but the tumor was too invasive and they were not effective,” Carrillo told Cooperativa radio.
As the first Chilean woman to fly warplanes, Duhalde became an icon of Latin American aviation, after enlisting as a volunteer in the Free French Forces formed by Charles De Gaulle in England after the Nazi occupation in France.
She was admitted as a pilot in the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) a division based in England, where she flew more than 1,500 missions in dozens of warplanes.
“Pioneer of our aviation, first female war pilot in the FACH, fighter against Nazism in the French and British air forces in World War II, Margot Duhalde demonstrated in a world of men that there is no impossibility for women”, published Chilean President Michelle Bachelet on Twitter.
After the end of the war, Duhalde became the first female air and radar controller in the country, commercial pilot and representative of a French aircraft manufacturer.
Margot was married three times and had only one child. “On several occasions, due to the long time it meant, he had to leave his son for long periods of time to dedicate himself to his work, he had a life of sacrifices,” said Carrillo.
After the retirement and despite her advanced age, this woman with a slender presence and penetrating gaze, flew for the last time a plane in 2007, and lived her last years in the home of retired officers of the Armed Forces of Chile.
From peasant to pilot
Margot Duhalde, a peasant descendant of the French and born in 1920 in the town of Río Bueno -south of Chile- always dreamed of being a pilot. At the age of just 16, she convinced her father to send her to Santiago to learn how to fly in an air club.
“Since I remember I wanted to fly (…) according to my mother I used to say plane before mom,” Duhalde told AFP in one of his last interviews last year.
To be admitted, she lied about her age, but because she was a woman no Chilean instructor wanted to teach her. The Frenchman César Copetta – who in 1910 became the first man to fly a plane in Chile – sponsored it.
Margot joined the Free French Forces as a pilot sergeant after General de Gaulle founded Free France in 1940 in England, a government in exile that called on the French and their descendants to defend their homeland during the Nazi occupation.
When she arrived in England, Margot had to fight with the prejudices of the time for being a woman and a pilot, in addition to the barriers imposed by the language, cultural differences and restrictions inherent in the war.
At first he was a patient companion and then a mechanic assistant, but with the help of a French pilot he was able to enroll in the ATA.
“Men always said that women were not going to be able to fly those planes and then they had to ‘bow down’ (accept it) no more because we actually fly like them,” said Margot.
Margot received several awards in England and France. The most important was the Legion of Honor in the rank of Commander of the National Order, which was handed over to him by the French government in 2006.