Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Mark Darling: Distraught pilot says he survived "suicide crash" without a scratch

CBS4's Jennifer Brice talks with Mark Darling.

Travis Darling (credit: CBS)

EATON, Colo. -- It's hard to imagine anyone walking away from the Jan. 25 plane crash on Rabbit Ears Pass, but the pilot who did talked to CBS station KCNC about how he stayed alive, and he has a message about life and survival.

It wasn't Mark Darling's first plane crash. The first happened years ago and left him with broken bones and in very bad shape. The circumstance of his latest crash is very different because it was not an accident, and Darling has no injuries -- not even a scratch.

"It's just a mashed up ball of aluminum," Darling said of his plane.

A picture of mark Darling's plane illustrates why his survival is a miracle. But within minutes of Jennifer Brice beginning the interview with him, he went another direction.

"Can I stop?" he asked Brice. "This really isn't the story."

When the camera turned back on, Brice continued her interview.

"Did you intentionally fly the plane into the mountain?" Brice asked.

"Yes I did," Darling responded.

Darling was flying over Steamboat Springs where he raised his family. He was overcome with grief thinking about his late son Travis, who died in a car crash two years ago.

Darling wanted to die.

"I make a bad decision at this point. I turn the airplane east toward the mountains," he said. "I say my last goodbyes... I closed my eyes and I wait for the impact."

"I can hear the plane just getting demolished," he said. "(It) started busting through the trees ... I do not have a bruise from the seatbelt, not a scratch on me."

Darling survived the crash but was on the mountain in the cold with no survival gear. Because he didn't file a flight plan, nobody in the aviation world would have known he crashed or where the plane went down.

He has been flying his entire life, but Darling chose not to file that flight plan because he does not have a pilot's license anymore -- he lost it years ago.

He says it was his son's voice that encouraged him and guided him to his phone.

"He's like, 'Dad, you are not going out like this. You're going to get yourself up and you're going to build a fire and you're going to get yourself out of here,'" Darling said.

Darling fought the extreme cold. He now wanted to survive. He searched for his cell phone to no avail. That's when he says his son spoke to him again.

"He says, ;dad.. just walk to the other side of the plane. He says just reach down in the snow. And I grab my phone' At this point, I'm like 'oh my God."

Darling called his sister, then 9-1-1.

Seven hours after crashing, he was rescued -- and is choosing to tell his story to help other grieving people have hope.

"I've never felt more alive in my life," he said. "I don't know what direction it's going to lead me in but, heck yeah, I'm along for the ride now."

Darling says he has not yet spoken to the NTSB who is investigating the crash. He is concerned about the ramifications of intentionally flying a plane into a mountain and not having a pilot's license, but said he will deal with whatever comes his way.

Story, video and photos:   http://www.cbsnews.com


NTSB Identification: CEN15LA122
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, January 25, 2015 in Routt County, CO
Aircraft: CESSNA 172F, registration: N8368U
Injuries: 1 Serious.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On January 25, 2015, about 1100 mountain standard time, a Cessna 172F airplane, N8368U, impacted terrain in the Routt National Forest, Colorado. The private pilot was seriously injured and the airplane was substantially damaged. The airplane was registered to and operated by a private individual under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed for the cross country flight.

The airplane impacted sparely wooded, mountainous terrain at an approximate elevation of 10,000 feet. Both wings were crushed and impact damaged. The fuselage was crushed and distorted. The empennage separated from the aft cabin but remain attached to the airplane via control cables. The right elevator was crushed. The airplane has been retained for further examination.

At 1115, an automated weather reporting facility at the Steamboat Springs Airport (KSBS), located 16 nautical miles to the northwest of the accident site, reported wind from 080 degrees at 4 knots, visibility 10 miles, an overcast ceiling at 2,500 feet above ground level, temperature 32° Fahrenheit (F), dew point 23° F, and altimeter setting of 30.40 inches of mercury.

FAA Flight Standards District Office: FAA Denver FSDO-03

 Members of Grand County Search and Rescue, Routt County Search and Rescue and Grand County EMS extract the victim of a small plane crash via snowmobile near Rabbit Ears Pass on Sunday and take him to a waiting ambulance. He was then placed aboard a medical helicopter and transported to a Front Range hospital. His injuries were not thought to be life-threatening.

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