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William Durkin; rescued Howard Hughes in crash

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. -- William Durkin, the Marine who pulled Howard Hughes from the wreckage of a plane he had been test-piloting over Beverly Hills, has died. He would have turned 90 Sunday.

Mr. Durkin died Saturday at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs of a heart attack, said his daughter, Kimberly.

Mr. Durkin was on his way to meet a date on July 7, 1946, when he saw the fiery wreckage of Hughes' XF-11 reconnaissance plane and rescued the eccentric billionaire. Hughes was burned on 78 percent of his body and mangled from his forehead to below his knees. He hovered near death days later, but rallied to fly again.

Less than a year later, Hughes climbed back into an XF-11 cockpit, a ''twin" of the crashed plane, for a successful test flight.

The crash was the centerpiece of Martin Scorsese's acclaimed 2004 film ''The Aviator," which starred Leonardo DiCaprio as Hughes.

Despite rumors that Mr. Durkin received a generous reward, his daughter said he refused to take any money from Hughes, who died in 1976.

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