Florida Keys News
Saturday, May 18, 2013
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Finally, Domingo Rosillo is honored
Bust unveiled at airport 100 years after first flight to Cuba

Albert Rosillo's voice cracked with emotion on Wednesday as he spoke about his father's historic flight between Key West and Cuba on May 18, 1913.

On the 100th anniversary of the flight, Domingo Rosillo finally received proper recognition for being the first pilot to fly between the Southernmost City and the island nation. Albert Rosillo had the honor of unveiling a bronze bust of his father at Key West International Airport.

"I don't know what to say," he told a small group of politicos and members of the Rosillo family who gathered for the ceremony. "I am the proudest person here today."

There already was a bust at the airport, since 1958, of the second man to make the flight -- Jose Augustin Parla.

Last year, the Rosillo family approached the county about placing the $10,000 bust of Domingo in the terminal, committing to paying half the cost. The County Commission agreed earlier this year to pony up the other half.

"Key West is truly unique because there is so much history here, and we discover it as we go along day by day," said County Commissioner Dave Rice. He, along with County Airports Director Peter Horton, was instrumental in having the new bust placed in the airport.

The feat, first attempted by Canadian pilot J.A.D. McCurdy in 1911, became the center of a bitter rivalry between Rosillo and Parla. The challenge was dubbed the "Duel over the Florida Straights," and the city of Havana agreed to give $10,000 to the first pilot to successfully fly between the two islands. Cuba's president and president-elect each gave an additional $1,000.

Parla and Rosillo took separate approaches to the challenge, which would be Parla's undoing. Rosillo chose to fly a regular plane and leave from land, but Parla used a seaplane and tried to take off from water.

The Navy advised Parla to postpone his trip because of heavy seas. But he refused and started out from Key West's South Beach.

The rough waters ended up rupturing his plane's float and damaging the guy wires securing the wings, and Parla returned to South Beach in defeat.

Rosillo, accompanied by a monkey and using a compass to guide his way, took off from Trumbo Point.

"Parla was so mad, he grabbed his brother's revolver and fired a shot at Rosillo," according to the Florida Aviation Historical Society.

Rosillo made it to Havana in roughly two hours and eight minutes and claimed the prize, according to The New York Times.

"The successful airman collapsed completely in consequence of the strain when he had landed safely in Camp Columbia (Cuba)," The New York Times wrote of the flight.

Two days later, Parla cabled a friend in Havana saying "he was going to make the flight regardless, or bury himself in the deep," the Florida Aviation Historical Society wrote.

Parla took off May 19, but became disoriented when he reached the coast of Cuba, thinking he was over Mexico. He eventually landed in Mariel Harbor, just outside Havana.

Even though Parla was second, a plaque in his honor was installed at the Key West airport in 1958.

Albert Rosillo was happy to see the new bust.

"I am glad to see that my father's accomplishment has finally been recognized," he said.

tohara@keysnews.com

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