Leaders of the Remnant Fellowship Church lost their lives in a plane crash into a Tennessee lake, including the Christian diet guru Gwen Shamblin Lara.
Rutherford County spokeswoman Ashley McDonald and Rutherford County Fire Rescue Capt. John Ingle confirmed victims’ identities in a news conference at Fate Sanders Marina on Sunday, May 30.
Lara, her husband Joe Lara, who played Tarzan on television in the 1980s and 1990s, along with son-in-law Brandon Hannah, David Martin, and Jennifer Martin, as well as Jessica Walters and Jonathan Walters, were heading from Smyrna to Palm Beach, Florida, when their plane crashed into Percy Priest Lake shortly after takeoff on Saturday, May 29.
McDonald and Ingle provided reporters with brief updates Sunday night, but they referred inquiries concerning the disaster to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTBS), which did not have a spokeswoman on-site to answer inquiries.
According to NTSB spokesperson Eric M. Weiss, the whole investigation, including a probable cause of the incident, conclusions, and recommendations, might take 1-2 years.
“Water recoveries make the recovery efforts more difficult,” Weiss said. “The NTSB and its partners are used to working through these difficulties and finding out what happened and why, so we can prevent future accidents.”
The pilot of the plane is still unknown. It is also unclear whether anyone witnessed the incident or what happened in the seconds before it.
“We can’t answer any questions regarding the investigation, the plane, anything like that,” McDonald told reporters.
No one on that flight was qualified to fly the plane, according to the Federal Aviation Administration website. Joe Lara, 58, held a pilot’s license, but his medical certification had not been updated since 2017.
Brandon Hannah also had a pilot license but he did not have a certification for the Cessna 500 series.
A recording of the control tower’s dialogue with the pilot, obtained on LiveATC.com, revealed an alarm going off in the jet’s cockpit seconds before it crashed, indicating a mechanical issue in the 1982-built plane, Tennessean reported.
WKRN News found the witnesses who were out on the marina when the alarm began.
“It’s just a brunch of debris,” said one witness.
“We could see it floating we just ain’t close enough to see exactly what was,” said the second witness who was out on the lake for fishing. He described what he saw as “small pieces of something we didn’t know” until he was told that it was a plane crash.
Elizabeth Hannah, Gwen’s daughter, asked for prayers in a text to church families, saying that the plane “had to go down for a controlled, quick landing.”
Lara started her weight-loss counseling business in 1980. During her school years, she had struggled with her weight.
Her weight-loss study “Weigh Down Diet” became popular in Christian circles as the program is based on “helping people turn away from the love of food and toward a love of God,” her website says.
According to The Associated Press, the workshop was in over 1,000 churches in 49 U.S. states and places in the United Kingdom and Canada by January 1995. However, by July 1996, the workshop had grown to almost 5,000 congregations, with about 10% in Lara’s home state of Tennessee.
Lara founded the Remnant Fellowship Church in 1999. In a statement released Sunday evening, the church promised that Lara’s children, Elizabeth Shamblin Hannah and Michael Shamblin, and other church leaders, will carry on Lara’s mission.