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Smashing Through Death’s Door

REPRINT: April 21, 2019

By Lance Waldren
Pioneer Press Staff Writer

listen while you work…

KLAMATH FALLS – In an instant all was quiet on the side of the Cascade Mountain on the night of March 16. Marshall Alexander’s plane had just crashed. He put down the pillow that was covering his face.

“Is this all there is to a plane crash?” he thought. “What a miracle, if I really am alive.”

Marshall faced death’s doors and was willing and ready to meet his Maker.

“I was thinking this is it, I’m going home to be with Jesus tonight,” Marshall told the Pioneer Press.

Following is Marshall’s harrowing story of how God knows how to fly a plane and keep His own safe and his amazing tale of struggling on the mountain side for ten hours waiting for his rescue.

No photo description available.
No photo description available.

The Flight

After a nice warm day spent doing yard work, pruning trees and raking leaves, Marshall Alexander received a telephone call from his brother-in-law in Springfield, Ore. It was about 7 p.m. and he was told that his sister was in the hospital with a heart attack.

Marshall is a pilot and owns his own planes. He assured his brother-in-law he would fly from Klamath Falls to Eugene that night to be with the family. He asked if they could pick him up at the airport around 10:30 p.m.

Marshall began to mentally prepare his “pre-flight” checklist as he showered. He checked the weather report on the Internet. It was clear, no clouds, no precipitation and no wind. The report showed good weather through Sunday.

“I knew I needed fuel in my plane, so I drove my old pickup that has a 100 gallon tank of aviation fuel,” said Marshall. “I parked my truck in front of the hanger as usual to refuel. I then went through my airplane preflight and walked around.”

Marshall has two airplanes in separate hangers. He walked to his other plane to retrieve his ICOM handheld radio, a Mag light and the current maps. He also grabbed a sleeping bag, sleeping pad and two pillows. The sleeping bag and pad were part of his standard equipment when flying in winter but he brought the pillows because he knew he would most likely be sleeping on the floor at his sisters house.

“I stuffed the pad and sleeping bag in the back storage compartment and was about to stuff the pillows in, but decided to just set them in the back seat,” Marshall told the Pioneer Press. “Once again I mentally went through my checklist.”

He was ready.

He moved the fuel truck out of the way, locked the hanger and was ready to “push off.” He taxied for takeoff on runway 14 with a right down wind departure.

Marshall took off into the cool, smooth and dark air. He headed directly to Eugene at a 700 feet per minute climb to 12,500 feet.

The Emergency

“It was a calm, beautiful and starry night,” Marshall said. “I just began to see the lights of Eugene on the horizon and glanced down at my GPS. I think it indicated 42 km to Eugene.”

He was getting ready to contact the Eugene tower when a light went off in his head.

“I didn’t fuel up – my truck was right there and I didn’t fuel up. I grabbed my flashlight at looked at the right and left fuel gauges up in the ceiling. Both were pegged in the red, empty. I shook my wings and no movement,” said Marshall.

He quickly checked the GPS for a possible landing area within reach, but didn’t see any available.

“I was thinking this is it, I’m going home to be with Jesus tonight. I was comfortable with the thought, knowing my eternal destiny was secure. I’m going to heaven,” said Marshall.

Marshall had been leading a Bible study called “The Way of the Master,” based on a weekly Christian television series. As the leader of the study, Marshall was keenly focused on the salvation message and his own eternal destiny.

He knew time is short on this earth, but he did not know his own time would be this short.

Marshall put in a call to the Eugene tower and declared an emergency.

“I am on a VFR flight Klamath direct to Eugene, I’m cruising at 12,500, 42 km out and will be out of fuel shortly. I am anticipating I’ll crash in the mountains. Please tell my wife I love her and I’ll see her in heaven,” he told the tower.

It was at this time the engines quit. He told the tower he was turning back southeast in an attempt to hit the Forest Service grass strip at Tokettee. He knew it would be full of snow but would not have rocks and trees down the middle of the runway. He asked the tower if they had any suggestions and told them he could really use some help.

All he heard from the tower was “remain this frequency.”

“As I turned south, I could see Roseburg, which didn’t look that far off,” said Marshall. “My next glance towards Roseburg indicated fewer and fewer lights, so I assumed terrain would prevent me from reaching the runway. I turned more southeast to try and make it to Tokettee.”

He focused on keeping the airplane under control for as long as he could.

“I thought my chances were slim, but, I needed to keep trying until I can’t try anymore,” he said.

Marshall continued to transmit blind to the Eugene tower frequency giving them elevation, direction and intent. He did not hear a response from Eugene tower or anyone else again.

“I transmitted in the blind – 9,500, 8,500. At about 7,500, I indicated the terrain is coming up on the horizon and impact will be shortly. I stopped looking at the GPS and just tried to see outside the airplane.

In my mind I told God I would be with him in a couple more minutes.”

The Crash

Marshall turned on his landing lights and watched the trees, rocks and cliffs pass under him.

He remembered the two pillows in the back seat. He put one lengthwise in his lap. He took off his glasses and placed them in the passenger seat. He held the other pillow in his right hand, ready to place it in front of his face on impact.

“I wasn’t watching the altimeter or panel anymore, so I don’t know what elevation I was flying now or where I actually was. The terrain directly below me, at least the tree tops, appeared to be just a few feet below. It was very dark in front of me, so I assumed the terrain was coming up fast,” he told the Pioneer Press.

He slowly gave back pressure until the stall warning went off. In his training he had practiced slow flight and knew he could slow the plane seven to nine knots before the actual stall.

“I was trying to get as slow as possible. It seemed I was gliding for some time with no elevation loss as I slowly held back pressure. I knew this was it,” he said.

Marshall saw a quick glimpse of white ahead and off to his left. Without thinking it through, he pulled back on the yoke and placed the pillow in front of his face. When the plane fully stalled, he gave it left rudder and pushed the yoke forward hoping he could plant the plane in a snow bank instead of a rock wall.

“At this point the plane was out of control, or at least not in my control. The last few moments of flight whether it was a fraction of a second or a few seconds I don’t know and didn’t see,” he said. “My life was in God’s hands. I was clutching my pillows and had my eyes closed waiting for impact.”

He didn’t hear or feel crashing or anything.

“Basically, I just felt one big straight forward hard impact. I felt debris and cold snow pass by my arms while holding the pillow.”

In an instant all was quiet except for the blare of the stall warning horn. He turned off the master switch to silence the noise.

He just sat there for an instant, no pain, no noise, in complete darkness. He was stunned that he had just crashed, survived and at that moment had no pain.

“Is this all there is to a plane crash?” he thought. “What a miracle, if I really am alive.”

It just seemed surreal to him to think that he had just crashed his airplane from 12,500 feet in a rugged Cascade wilderness, survived – and this is all that happened.

Marshall J. Alexander died on March 16, 2007 in his airplane N6462A – or at least an old version of him did. The Marshall J. Alexander who survived the crash would become a new creature on the side of the mountain.

“God truly does know how to fly an airplane and keep his own safe,” he said. “I was thinking through this whole time I never asked God to save me, He just did. I didn’t cry out for a miracle, I just assumed He was ready to take me home, but he had other plans. Praise the Lord.”


He thanked God and began to assess the situation.

He found his flashlight in the side pocket and turned it on. A foot from his face was a snow bank, no windshield.

The airplane was buried face down in the snow with snow blocking both of the doors and windows, except the back small left hand passenger window.

His custom order BAS shoulder harness was in his lap, having been completely pulled out through the airplane roof.

Marshall thought, “Now there was a good investment a few years ago. Without the pillows and shoulder harness, I doubt that my frail body would have made it.”

As he tried to pull himself out of the seat he first became aware that all wasn’t well. His right leg was pinned at the upper thigh between the seat and the dash. He couldn’t push the seat back and couldn’t push off on his right foot because something was wrong with it. He tried to pull and pry with his arms but he had limited strength in his arms due to chest pain.

Marshall thought he had broken his right leg, right foot and had some broken ribs. His teeth hurt and the right side of his jaw was sore. He did not see any blood, no lacerations and no missing body parts, so he figured things weren’t too bad.

It took between ten to 15 minutes to wiggle out of the seat. He saw the small window in the rear of the plane was already broken and he used his hand to pull out the remaining pieces of plastic. He looked around with his flashlight and found everything he thought would be useful and shoved it out the window.

Marshall painfully crawled through the window. Once outside he turned the flashlight on and was startled to see blood all over the ground. He surveyed himself and saw nothing. He then realized he had cut his hand while removing the plastic from the window. No big deal he thought.

Marshall stood up for the first time and immediately felt a tremendous amount of stabbing pain and heat down his right side. He doubled up in the snow and lay there thinking he must have internal injuries.

“I just prayed that Jesus would get me through this. He saved me this far – which was a miracle – so why would he allow me to die now,” said Marshall.

Within a few seconds the pain went away, He stood up, pushed around on his stomach and his back. He did not feel anything out of place or painful. Just his chest.

“Whatever it was, passed. I thought maybe my internal parts got jumbled up and when I stood up they realigned and went back into place. Anyway, I stocked it up to another miracle from God within the last 30 minutes,” he said.

He looked at his cellular phone and saw no signal, his satellite phone was the same – no signal. He grabbed his handheld ICOM radio and began transmitting on 121.5. He heard the shrilling sound of the Emergency Locator Transmission (ELT).

He assumed the plane was transmitting a signal.

The baggage door was already broken open and all of his stuff was ready to be pulled out. Sleeping bag, pad, overnight bag and an emergency bag with food. Several years ago, Marshall had an extended baggage compartment installed on the plane. Inside this compartment he stored additional emergency items. Heavy duty space blankets, flares, cooking utensils, candles, a small cooking stove, a .22 rifle and pistol, several hundred rounds of ammunition, dehydrated meals, spare flashlights, batteries, emergency whistle, signal mirror, aluminum foil and a bunch of other stuff he thought would be useful in an emergency.

He knew if he could get to the stuff and his injuries were not any worse, he could survive for days on the side of the mountain.

“Unfortunately, the adrenaline had begun to wear off and my pain started to increase,” he said. “I was barely able to breath, very sharp pains with each breath. I crawled back into the compartment as far as I could and pulled everything down to my feet. I did not reach the stove, .22 rifle and some other stuff due to the severe pain.”

He crawled out of the compartment and made a little nest in the snow using the left wing, which was at a steep angle knifed into the snow, as a support so he would not roll down the mountain. He laid out his sleeping pad and sleeping bag. He then began to organize his emergency gear in some sort of fashion anticipating if he had to remain here he would have everything he would need.

He began nibbling on a power bar and waited.

Marshall placed his head on the pillows and began transmitting blindly on the radio, switching between two different frequencies.

He heard the satellite phone make a noise and saw it had a signal. He dialed his house and got the answering machine.

He left a message for his wife and family letting them know he was alive. He told them he had crashed and was not sure where he was.

“I then dialed 911 and had just begun being connected when it went dead,” he said.

As it turned out, this was going to be the scenario. Limited satellite phone coverage, brief conversations, just enough to identify himself – then a lost signal.

Marshall used his flashlight and saw he was in a very steep ravine and had a limited overhead view to catch the satellites. He would stare at the phone screen, sometimes for 30 minutes to watch for a signal. When he saw one, he would immediately begin dialing, then would lose the signal before completing the call. He described this as one of the most frustrating parts of the ordeal.

“I was never very cold unless I purposefully crawled out of my nest. My right foot and ankle was swollen the size of a grapefruit and hurt badly so I often stuck it in the snow bank and iced it down. This also chilled me,” he said.

Marshall did not take his tennis shoe off, knowing if he did he would not get it back on. He knew he may need to walk out of there or at least to the top of the ravine for better satellite reception. He was conscious of shock and hypothermia and would stop and assess what he was doing and thinking to make sure all was well.

“I felt confident I was not losing it, except I wanted to kill the satellite phone a few times,” he told the Pioneer Press.

Twice during the early hours of the incident, Marshall saw airplanes flying north. He could see the planes strobes and running lights so he set flares to signal them. He did this twice to no avail. He assumed they were larger planes and flying to Portland. With one flare left he knew he had to be more certain and wait for the planes to be closer before using it.

“Often I just glared up into the heavens and admired the bright stars while looking for planes. I prayed and sang praise songs to Jesus at the top of my lungs, which wasn’t much at that point,” said Marshall. “I could not take deep breaths, but I wanted God to hear my praise, off key, garbled and broken as they were.”

For some reason, God spared his life that night. He asked God why and listened.

Marshall and his wife have eight children and nine grandchildren to influence and continue to train up in the way of the Lord. Is that it?

He didn’t get an immediate impression from God as to what His purpose for Marshall’s life is now, but is hopeful that with continued communication they will figure it out together.

“Now I get to use all of my cool emergency stuff I have carried around for years and had to convince my wife to let me buy,” he said. “Actually, she let me buy most everything for the plane if it meant safety, but she had been questioning the $65 a month phone bill that I never used.”

But, that $65 per month paid off, when it was the means for his brief conversations with his wife on his satellite phone. Their talks were reassuring.

The batteries on both the ICOM radio and the satellite phone were getting low and he turned them both off now and again to save the batteries.

Being Found

Every so often he would see an airplane overhead and he would turn the flashlight on and shine it towards them. Finally, he saw a plane far to the north. He flashed the light and saw the plane turn towards him.

During the course of the night, Marshall had dropped the last flare down a small gap between the wing and the snow. He had tried several times during the night to reach it but it was too painful. His chest was still in great pain and his breathing was quick and shallow. A sharp stabbing pain with each breath.

Now, knowing the plane was flying in his direction gave Marshall extra incentive to reach the flare. He stretched and twisted awkwardly and was still two or three inches away. He took as deep a breath as he could, yelled and shoved his hand as far as he could. He heard a loud thump in his chest and felt a tremendous sharp pain. He reached the flare.

While pulling up the flare he noticed the intense pain was gone and he could actually breath somewhat normally. He still felt the pain, but, it was no longer unbearable.

“I guess I self adjusted my rib or something,” said Marshall.

He still couldn’t stand because of the injury to his leg, so he rested his arm over the wing and lit off the flare. Within seconds, the search plane flew directly over him and began circling.

He knew he was found, although he would have to wait nearly five hours to be rescued.

“I knew the work God had started he was going to finish,” said Marshall.

He was able to have brief conversations with his wife on the satellite phone. Many of his loved ones and friends were on the speaker phone at his house. It was great to hear their voices and words of encouragement.

His wife told him that Klamath County Sheriff Tim Evinger was doing all he could to get rescue efforts moving and that a ground rescue crew should be there in a few hours.

She also said Bill Hancock from the Klamath Falls Airport was up all night making calls and trying to help.

For the remaining hours of the morning, he watched the single engine plane circle overhead. The plane circled for over three hours and eventually flew off when another plane appeared and took over.

The search planes were from the Civil Air Patrol and were manned by Scott Baker, Jim Metcalff and Tom Moore. Baker was the first pilot to spot Marshall.

“He was the angel in the sky for over three hours, just circling, giving me comfort with the drown of his airplane engine,” said Marshall. “I looked up into the heavens singing every praise song I could remember. I prayed and told the Lord I am His.”

The Marshall J. Alexander of March 16, 2007 died in the air in N6462A. The Marshall J. Alexander who survived the crash and is praising the Lord now, is a new creature.

“I don’t know what that means or what God has in store for me, but I am now fully aware that He has something new and different for me and I am dedicating my life to His purpose.”

“I did not deserve or warrant his saving grace when I accepted Him as Lord and Savior many years ago and now I know I should not be here except for His love and saving grace once again.”

The Rescue

Eventually the sun came up and he could see the terrain surrounding him. It was very steep and rugged. As he sat there, he realized what a true miracle this landing spot had been. Rocks, granite cliffs and trees surrounded him.

“How did I not hit something harder than soft snow?” asks Marshall. “God truly is the best co-pilot when you have your eyes closed and you’re clutching a pillow waiting for the final seconds of your life.”

Around 7:50 a.m. he heard the drone of a helicopter coming from the northeast. His heart began beating faster as he knew this was his rescue.

He watched as the National Guard helicopter came overhead and a guardsman was lowered on what looked like a three prong boat anchor. He was lowered about 15 to 20 feet below where Marshall was. He motioned for Marshall to come down the hill to him.

His right leg was injured and very stiff. He could not put any weight on it. His chest was still throbbing and he had limited strength in his hands and arms due to the chest pain.

He had survived this far and he wasn’t about to step onto a 70 degree snow field to try and walk down to him. If he lost his balance, he would slide by him and end up a quarter mile down at the bottom of the steep ravine.

The guardsman disconnected the hook from the cable and used it as an ice pick to pull himself up and around the wing to where Marshall was. Marshall straddled two of the prongs on the hook. The guardsman told him that once he reattached the cable it will pull him up and he will jump on.

“Jump onto what?” Marshall asked.


He was told it might hurt, but, they would be up in a moment.

They had difficulty reattaching the cable to the hook but soon they were on there way up.

He then realized why they wanted him to move farther down the slope, as he looked up at the blades of the helicopter which were too close to the ravine wall.

“One big gust of wind could make for another big mess,” he said.

Within minutes they turned towards Medford and a waiting ambulance.


After a few days in the hospital, Marshall was released and went home. He still has many bruises on his arms, legs and chest. He also has a broken sternum and a broken bone in his right foot. The force of the crash also bruised his heart and right lung, which at first was a concern.

Marshall is resting at home and planning his next flying adventure and of course looking at what planes are out there to replace N6462A.

“Most importantly, I will be in prayer and study to see what God has in store for me and my family. He saved me from certain death, so I want to make sure the effort will be rewarded by my efforts,” said Marshall.

He will also make sure he fills his plane with fuel, before he drives the fuel truck away.


With a pillow in front of his face and his eyes closed, Marshall Alexander waited for the final seconds of his life. In a true miracle, the plane came to a stop, buried nose first into the snow (above). The red circle shows the airplane and the steep, rugged terrain, surrounded by granite cliffs and trees.

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