DURHAM, N.C. — Mark Ernest Plath, 62, of Durham, N.C., formerly of Champaign, died from an intracerebral hemorrhage Sunday evening, Jan. 12, 2020, in Duke University Hospital, Durham. He was on medical leave from his position as a captain and senior pilot for Virgin America Airlines.
A celebration of life in his honor took place in Durham on Jan. 25. A celebration in C-U will be arranged later this year.
A lifelong pilot and aviation enthusiast, Mark was trained in the 1970s at Willard Airport in the University of Illinois Aviation Institute. He flew for a succession of regional airlines in the U.S. and northern Europe, eventually serving on Pan American World Airways routes that operated out of Berlin, Germany. He witnessed the destruction of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
Over the years, thousands of souls have rested in his hands while he was pilot-in-command whose hands controlled the movements of his vessel. He delivered all souls to safe landings.
As an officer in the Air Line Pilots Association, he represented his colleagues in negotiations with corporate managers. In the turbulent milieu of regional aviation, many of his employers went bankrupt suddenly and taught him a lesson: “When you pick up your paycheck, RUN, do not walk, to the nearest bank.” he told his colleagues. “Wait a few hours and there may not be money left for you.”
Mark was one of the first pilots hired by Virgin America even before it launched routine passenger service. For a decade, he enjoyed piloting an Airbus on nonstop transcontinental U.S. routes. During those years, he found and wed Lauren Leigh Durham, a woman as fond of aviation life as he was. They were married in 2008 at the Wright Brothers National Memorial near Kitty Hawk, N.C., and traveled the world together when not on flight duty. She continues to serve as a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines. They had no children.
Born in Boston on July 1, 1957, as a child Mark traveled with his family as they accompanied his father, anthropologist David W. Plath, to field research sites in Japan, and to faculty positions at UC Berkeley, at the University of Iowa and, since 1966, at UIUC. Mark attended public schools in Champaign; the Canadian Academy in Kobe, Japan, for one year; and graduated from University High School, Urbana, before enrolling in the Institute for Aviation. During the 1969-70 academic year, he was globe-schooled while the family traveled around the world with his father, who was directing the International Honors Program, a jet-set junior year abroad.
His mother, Marilyn Ann Lusher Plath, preceded him in death.
In addition to his widow, survivors include his father and stepmother, Jacquetta Hill-Plath, of Savoy; brother-in-law, John Durham of Los Angeles; and sister, Gail Napell, and her husband, Bruce Napell, of San Rafael, Calif., and their children, Isaac and Tova.