story: Jim Dyar photos: Devencarter.com
ERIC MARSHALL'S ROAD TO RECOVERY
It was a memorable crash for many reasons.
For one thing, Eric Marshall’s busted-up Cessna 180 was completely visible from Buenaventura Boulevard, a busy driving route in west Redding. The plane smashed into a hill just above Starlight Boulevard, well short of the runway at Benton Airpark.
But people also recall the crash because it involved Stanley the dog, an adorable Dachshund-poodle cross. The press coverage that followed the March 30, 2008 incident described how Stanley survived the wreck unscathed. A photo of a firefighter holding the pooch made national news.
Marshall, the plane’s pilot, didn’t fare quite as well. He broke his neck, damaged his spine, broke both heels and cracked 10 ribs.
A year and half later and Stanley remains fine. He’s quick to roll over and receive a belly rub. Marshall is doing better as well. He’s walking now, though it’s a slow and deliberate process following five foot surgeries and the severe atrophy of his calf muscles. He’s continuing to regain his balance and coordination.
The incident mirrored the relationship between dog and owner, explains Marshall. When the two are out together, Stanley gets all the attention, especially from members of the opposite sex. Marshall becomes virtually invisible.
So it wasn’t surprising that in online forums following the crash, Marshall learned that people were far more concerned about the well being of Stanley, and less so about the pilot.
“I’ve gotten a lot of mileage from pointing out that we cashed in all of our good karma, and his was way better than mine,” Marshall said.
Marshall eventually returned to work as a construction observer for PACE Civil, Inc. in Redding. He’s even flown a couple times since the crash and plans to continue his passion for flight. Primarily, he’s glad to be alive, and – as he’s done many times in his life – he’s searching for meaning from the incident.
“You won’t meet a more grateful individual,” says Marshall, 57. “I’ve seen plenty of examples of how much worse it could be.”
The type of neck fracture Marshall endured, a C2 “denes” fracture, kills or paralyzes 95 percent of the people who incur it. Had the bones shifted a millimeter or two more, Marshall probably wouldn’t have walked again, or worse.
He’s deeply appreciative to the crew from Redding Fire Station No. 3 who carefully removed him from the cabin of the plane. He credits orthopedic surgeon John Lange, himself a pilot, and neurosurgeon Gabriela Morris for their decisions and care in his initial recovery.
His daughter Katie Torres and son Andy Marshall both traveled from out of state to assist their father. Irene Marshall, his former wife, consistently came day after day to bathe him. His sister, Lisa Kelley, assisted in the confusing quagmire of medical insurance and treatment schedules.
“It is my belief that we start out our lives with a script, an outline of emotional lessons that our spirit needs to experience,” Marshall wrote in a piece about the crash and its aftermath. “Our family, especially our children, friends and timely strangers are our teachers. Isn’t it amazing that whatever personal growth challenge you might need, your family members will provide on a daily basis?”
Over a recent breakfast at the Benton Airpark Cafe, Marshall talked plainly about what went wrong. He inadvertently turned the plane’s fuel selector valve to the “off” position, when he thought he was turning it to the “both tanks” position. Because the aircraft was gliding and propeller “windmilling,” he never connected what had gone wrong. He figured it out while riding in the ambulance that transported him to nearby Mercy Medical Center.
“Because I knew what caused the accident, I didn’t come away with a mistrust of the machinery,” said Marshall, who had his first solo flight at age 16 and earned his private pilot license by 17. “All I had to do was get my own confidence back (to fly again).”
The walls of the airpark café reflect Marshall’s love of flying in a very visual way. His beautiful wide-spectrum photographs – many of them aerial shots – are displayed everywhere. A pilot from Siskiyou County tells Marshall how much he loves his horizontal shot of snow-covered Castle Crags and Mt. Shasta.
Marshall’s work has been featured in Enjoy magazine and been featured in the 2007 Redding Printing calendar. His “Christmas Candy Shasta” photo was Best of Show at the North Valley Art League’s 2006 photography competition, and he recently won an award of merit at the Sundial Film and Photography Festival. To view more examples, visit www.ericwmarshall.com or Graphic Emporium. He supplements his income by selling prints of his work.
To create his images, Marshall takes a series of shots and digitally merges them together using Photoshop. He enjoys this process because it engages so many of his passions in one – flying, photography and the creative and technical skill of fusing the images together on the computer.
“It’s been an endless cycle of trying to find out how to make myself feel good from within,” Marshall explains. “Photography’s a big part of that. It’s something I do for myself. I’m documenting what Mother Nature is doing, I think it’s a gift to experience it there with a camera and hopefully share it with others.”
When Marshall tells Stanley to jump into an airplane, his four-legged still obliges, albeit a bit reluctantly. Stanley will probably never be as excited about taking to the air as his master.
“Flying is such a marvelous experience, such a joyous experience,” Marshall says. “I do it for the beauty, and that doesn’t go away. On a gorgeous, clear day, I want to see the world from the air.”