Veteran World War II pilot Margot Duhalde dies in Chile | News | DW | 06.02.2018
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Veteran World War II pilot Margot Duhalde dies in Chile

Margot Duhalde, who flew Spitfires in World War II as the first female Chilean military pilot, has died at the age of 97. She defied traditional gender norms in Chile and learned to fly at just 16.

After a life in which she flew missions for forces under threat from Nazi Germany but was rejected for commercial pilot jobs back home, Chile's first female military pilot, Margot Duhalde, died late Monday at 97 years old. A southern country girl of French-Basque ancestry, she became the only female aviator from Chile to join French liberation forces when President Charles de Gaulle's government-in-exile called the diaspora home to fight.

Read more: Le Pen denies France responsible for wartime round-up of Jews

"Ever since I can remember, I wanted to fly," Duhalde told the French news agency AFP in 2017. "According to my mother, I started saying 'plane' before I could say 'mummy.'"

Duhalde left her family's home in the town of Rio Bueno at age 16 to go to Santiago to train as a pilot. She lied about her age and enrolled in a flying school.

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'Swallow their pride'

After graduating and finding herself shut out of Chile's domestic aviation labor market for being a woman, in 1940 Duhalde volunteered at the Free France consulate and, at just 20 years old, ended up a military pilot. She headed to Buenos Aires and from there by ship to brave the war in Europe.

Duhalde, who never saw combat, flew planes from base to base for Britain's Royal Air Force (RAF), keeping the fleet one flight ahead of Nazi German attacks. As a Spanish and French speaker and one of the RAF's very few female pilots, she faced the dual barriers of language and misogyny.

"The men always said that women were never going to be able to fly airplanes," Duhalde told AFP. "But they had to swallow their pride — because really we flew just as well as they did."

Duhalde returned to Chile in 1947, but the labor market for pilots was still shut to women, and she did not find work for many years until a regional airline took her on. She worked as an aircraft controller for 40 years and ascended to the rank of colonel of aviation in the air force for her ability to monitor radar. Margot Duhalde last flew a plane in 2007.

"We regret the death of Margot Duhalde, Chile's first female pilot," the Women's Ministry wrote on Twitter late Monday. "We are grateful for the great contribution that she made to Chilean aviation and recognize her courage to follow through with her dream for all of her life, breaking stereotypes and showing the way for other women." The ministry also tweeted Spanish-language footage of Duhalde.

Britain, Chile and France, which inducted her into the Legion of Honor, have decorated Duhalde for her service in the war.

mkg/gsw (EFE, AFP, dpa)

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