EATON, Colo. (CBS4) – 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 CBS4 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 the Eaton resident with broken bones and in very bad shape. The circumstances of his latest crash are 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 Darling’s plane illustrates why his survival was miraculous. But within minutes of CBS4’s Jennifer Brice beginning an interview with him about what happened, he went another direction.
“Can I stop?” he asked Brice. “This really isn’t the story.”
When the camera began rolling again, Brice continued her interview.
“Did you intentionally fly the plane into the mountain?” she 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.” 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 and snow 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 cellphone 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 911.
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. 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.