Pilot survives plane crash near Rabbit Ears Pass
The pilot who crashed his single-engine airplane near Rabbit Ears Pass on Sunday survived by calling his family and 9-1-1 shortly after the crash, starting a fire and waiting for rescuers, who arrived at the remote scene less than four hours after the accident.
The crash occurred just after 11 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 25, approximately 6 miles south-southwest of Rabbit Ears Pass just over the Grand County line in Routt County, said Grand County Search and Rescue public information officer Greg Foley.
Eleven members of GCSAR, an equal number from Routt County Search and Rescue and members of Grand County EMS responded to the scene.
Mark Darling of Eaton was en route from Baggs, Wyo., to Loveland when the crash occurred, Foley said. It is not clear whether he had landed in Steamboat Springs, he added. The cause of the crash is under investigation.
Darling was the sole occupant of the plane, and he managed to get himself out of the tangled wreckage and start a fire after calling for help, Foley said.
He said there were low clouds in the area at the time of the crash and temperatures were in the mid-30s Sunday afternoon on top of Rabbit Ears Pass. The plane is a single-engine, high-wing Cessna.
The injured pilot was extracted from the crash site in a sled pulled by snowmobile for eight miles back to the staging area at the Muddy Pass Trailhead on US Highway 40 and loaded onto a Classic Air Medical helicopter for transport to a Front Range hospital, Foley said.
According to the Steamboat Pilot, Darling is a former Steamboat Springs resident. The newspaper reported Monday morning that he was in fair condition at Denver Health Center.
Foley said searchers were able to use snowmobile trails in the area to get most of the way to the crash site
“We could get pretty close to the guy on one of those groomed trails up there,” he said.
Three people died in another small plane crash near this crash site in July 2003, according to a Steamboat Pilot article. The wreckage of that plane was airlifted out of the Sarvis Creek Wilderness, according to the newspaper.
Foley said this crash was close to but not in the wilderness area.
The location poses problems for searchers not only because of deep snow and challenging terrain, but also because of its location near the sinuous county line, which can cause jurisdictional issues.
“We’re never sure what county it’s in,” Foley said of calls from that area. “You dial 9-1-1 up there, you don’t know where it’s going to go.”
Routt and Grand counties have an agreement about responding to incidents in the area, he said, because Routt authorities generally can get there in about half the time. In this case, it was a Routt County-led operation with the crash site in Routt County but the staging area in Grand County, Foley said.
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West Grand seniors Rene Dominguez, right, and Angel Dominguez pass the baton during one of the nighttime relays at the 2021 Joe Shields Invitational at WGHS.