Decades Later, The Only Survivors Of A Plane Crash In The Rockies Are Still Putting The Pieces Back Together

November 2, 2019
A family photo of the Godfrey family, with Andy and Mark in the bottom row.A family photo of the Godfrey family, with Andy and Mark in the bottom row.Courtesy of John Breen
A family photo of the Godfrey family, with Andy and Mark in the bottom row.

The night before a Houston banker named Bill Godfrey took his family to Aspen to ski, he was so excited he sang John Denver songs to his sons, Andy and Mark. 

On March 2, 1974, the family left Houston on a private plane. But over the Colorado mountains they ran into a snowstorm, and the plane crashed.

Andy Godfrey was 8. Mark was 11. They were the only survivors. Their parents, their brother and one of their sisters died along with the plane’s pilot.

In a new documentary, “3 Days, 2 Nights,” Andy Godfrey recalls the moment of the crash. 

“I remember hitting the snow. I remember sliding on the snow and then, you know, blacking out,” he said.

Years later, a nurse wrote Andy a letter that helped fill in the gaps, including what he said upon arrival at the hospital with his brother.

“She said the first thing that came out of my mouth were, ‘I'm not that bad, but my brother's right behind me and he's much worse than me.’ “ 

And then, according to her letter, Andy told the nurse what his mother had said before she died in the plane. 

“She said, ‘don’t stray too far from the plane, conserve the food, and try to keep Mark warm,” Godfrey remembered.

“How else would an 8-year-old know what to do?” Andy said.

The documentary is playing at the Denver Film Festival. The Godfreys are now in their 50s, and both live in Colorado — Mark in the Denver area and Andy in Aspen. The film, directed by their childhood friend John Breen. 

After the crash, Andy woke to see Mark pinned in the debris, bloody but alive. They spent three days and two nights in the plane before searchers — led by a 9-year-old boy who’d seen the plane crash — found the wreckage in a snowy forest. 

The young rescuer was Danny Schaefer. He was skiing at the nearby Sunlight area, got off the lift, looked to the skies and saw the plane spiral downward. He told his parents right away, but it was three days before authorities, running out of other leads, put Schafer in a helicopter to help them look. He guided them straight to the site.

Decades later, Andy Godfrey started looking for Danny Schaefer. He even called random people in Colorado with that name in hopes he’d get the right person. Ultimately, he found Schaefer in Arizona, where he’s a retired airline pilot.

The search for Schaefer was only one episode in a years-long quest by both brothers to learn more about what happened, keep the memory of their family alive and deal with the trauma that still remains.

The crash and its aftermath even led to a rift between the brothers. Mark lost both legs and was confined to a wheelchair for several years, unable to compete in the sports he loved. Andy, who was less physically injured, was still able to ski and play hockey with his friends. 

In the film, the brothers talk about those days. Andy Godfrey now feels he wasn’t empathetic enough as his brother struggled with his disability. Mark Godfrey says he’s sad he was too consumed to give Andy the guidance an older brother nearly would.

The Godfreys said making the documentary opened them up to their feelings, and their audiences to a better understanding of the need to maintain relationships with friends and family.

“One guy came up to us after the film,” Mark Godfrey said. “He said ‘I’ve been estranged from my brother … and watching this film has given me a motivation to reach out to him this weekend and see if we can start knocking down some of those walls that had built up between us.” 

The Denver Film Festival screens “3 Days, 2 Nights” on Saturday, Nov. 2; Monday, Nov. 4; and Wednesday, Nov. 6. The festival runs through Sunday, Nov. 10.