Plane carrying Gwen Lara crashes into lake
NASHVILLE, Tennessee – Controversial diet guru and church leader Gwen Lara and her husband, actor Joe Lara, are among seven people believed to have died after a small plane crashed into a Tennessee lake, the authorities said.
The Cessna C501 was bound for Palm Beach, Florida when it crashed into Percy Priest Lake about 3 miles from where the flight took off in Smyrna, Tennessee, authorities said. Rutherford County Fire Rescue Captain Joshua Sanders said in a statement on Sunday that recovery efforts were focused on examining a half-mile-wide debris field in the lake.
“Our efforts have shifted from a rescue effort to that of a recovery effort,” he said earlier. “We are no longer … looking for living victims at this point.”
Dive teams from local emergency agencies found human remains and pieces of the plane that crashed into the lake. “The debris field is about half a mile wide,” said Rutherford County Fire Captain and Commander John Ingle.
Crews fly drones as the recovery effort continues.
Search and recovery efforts began shortly after the plane crashed. On Saturday evening, the Rutherford County Government confirmed the names of the seven people on board.
William J. Lara, Gwen S. Lara, Jennifer J. Martin, David L. Martin, Jessica Walters, Jonathan Walters and Brandon Hannah were all presumed dead, according to the Rutherford County press release.
All were from Brentwood, Tennesee, a town in the suburbs of Nashville of about 40,000 people.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration website, no one on this flight was qualified to fly the aircraft. Joe Lara, 58, had a pilot’s license but had not updated his medical certification since 2017. Medical certification is required every two years.
Brandon Hannah, another church leader with a pilot’s license, was on the flight, but he did not have certification for the Cessna 500 series, according to the FAA database.
A recording of the communication between the control tower and the pilot, captured on LiveATC.com, revealed an alarm going off in the aircraft’s cockpit seconds before it crashed, suggesting a mechanical failure of the aircraft, built in 1982.
Gwen Lara, 66, was founder of Remnant Fellowship Church and author of “The Weigh Down Diet”, a program based on “helping people turn away from the love of food and the love of God” , says its website.
Joe Lara, 58, briefly played Tarzan in the television series “Tarzan: The Epic Adventures” in the 1990s.
The church issued a statement shortly after the crash.
“The Shamblins, Hannah and Laras appreciate your concern, support and prayers,” the statement read. As has been reported by media, some family members may have been involved in a plane crash this morning. … The families will share the details in due course. In the meantime, the families respectfully ask for prayers and privacy for everyone involved, please.
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The Remnant Fellowship, founded in 1999, is said to have more than 1,500 members in 150 congregations around the world. Gwen Lara had said that being overweight was a sign of greed and gluttony. She said children should obey parents, wives should obey husbands, and members should obey church leaders.
Lara had been a lightning rod for news coverage over the years after founding the church on the basis of what she called “faith-based” weight loss. The Remnant Fellowship website lists food before drugs, depression, personal focus, money, anger, selfishness, envy, and jealousy as idols that need to be “laid down.”
Critics accused the church of being a sect. Yet thousands of churches in the United States and around the world have started to use his book and videos as guides.
Lara has filled her own church with radiant, lean people, according to a Tennessean profile ten years ago. She made insensitive comments about thin Jews in concentration camps and claimed that genetics don’t play a role in weight loss.
She was interviewed by Larry King and featured in a New Yorker magazine article.
Jennifer and David Martin, two of the victims, joined the Remnant Fellowship when it was founded in 1999. They had five children. The Martins, on the Remnant Fellowship website, praised Gwen for turning them from passive Christians to active Christians.
“Each year our marriage gets better,” wrote David Martin. “Our children have a relationship with God and they WANT to be near us as parents. Our finances have been restored. We have learned to STOP sinning, and the amazing and cool result of doing so… is that this Remnant Fellowship Church is FULL of people who can say the same! “
Gwen Lara’s daughter Elizabeth Hannah messaged the Remnant families on Sunday asking for prayers. Hannah wrote that the plane “had to descend for a controlled and rapid landing.”
The text said the Laras were on the plane, along with Remnant bosses David and Jennifer Martin, Jonathan and Jessica Walters and Elizabeth Hannah’s husband, Brandon.
Authorities said the 1982 Cessna plane left Smyrna Airport at 10:53 a.m. on Saturday. It crashed shortly after takeoff, according to the press release. The National Transportation Safety Board was leading the investigation.
Contributors: Kerri Bartlett and Adam Tamburin, Nashville Tennessean; The Associated Press.