Photo: Hannah Luce, 22, the sole survivor of last week's plane crash (courtesy Teen Mania)
This week, many are mourning the loss of four youth workers who lost their lives late last week as they were traveling to Teen Mania’s Acquire the Fire event in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Funeral services for two of the four who died were held today. The first memorial was held on Wednesday and the last of the four services will be held on Saturday. The sole survivor of the crash, Hannah Luce, remains hospitalized.
On Friday, May 11, a group of five youth workers were in plane crash that left four dead and one in serious but stable condition. Hannah Luce, 22, was airlifted to a Kansas City hospital with burns covering a third of her body — primarily, on her hands, back and legs. (Anderson was also initially airlifted to the hospital, but he later passed away due to his injuries.)
The Kansas Highway Patrol identified the victims as pilot Luke Sheets, 23, of Ephraim, Wis.; Austin Anderson, 27, of Ringwood, Okla.; Garrett Coble, 29, of Tulsa, Okla.; and Stephen Luth, 22, of Muscatine, Iowa.
According to ministry officials, thousands are praying for their family members, friends and colleagues. They said prayer has been a tremendous support to everyone during this heartbreaking time.
“The prayers mean so much and that has really helped sustain us here at Teen Mania,” said Cindy Mallette, communications director and Teen Mania spokesperson. “We know that it is getting the Luce family and the other four families through this difficult time.”
Mallette said the first funeral for Austin Anderson was held yesterday and everyone at Teen Mania headquarters was praying for his family the entire day.
“Although the tragedy has brought overwhelming grief, there is also hope and a comfort from knowing that all four men were strong men of God. They loved Jesus with all of their hearts,” she expressed.
“I know Austin. He was a hero before ever got in that plane, having served in the military. He was a brand new staff member of ours and I had spent a lot of time with him. I know he had the kind of heart to give his life for a friend, for his country. He was full of life and full of passion,” said Ron Luce, Teen Mania founder and president, on the Today Show with Matt Lauer on Wednesday.
“We consider all the members on board of that plane, all four who perished, as heroes, because they had a passion for life and a passion for their faith,” Luce continued. “They were going to an event to help them discover how to share that faith and reach more young people. In pursuit of their mission, their lives were ended.”
The group was aboard an eight-seater twin-engine Cessna 401 plane, which took off from a Tulsa, Okla., airport and was headed to the Christian youth rally in Iowa.
According to National Transportation Safety Board reports (NTSB), the plane landed in a field and skidded around 200 feet before hitting a tree line and bursting into flames. An investigation is underway, but details of the accident are still unclear. The plane went down around 4:30 p.m. on Friday.
Sheets, Coble and Luth died at the scene. Initial reports have indicated that Anderson pulled Luce from the burning plane. They were able to escape the wreckage and walk to a nearby roadway for help. A motorist stopped and called 911. Then, emergency crews arrived on the scene. Anderson, who initially survived the crash, was burned on 90 percent of his body. Later, he succumbed to his injuries and passed away early Saturday morning.
Anderson, a former Marine who completed two tours in Iraq, had just graduated from Oral Roberts University. He and Luth had also recently been hired by Teen Mania. Along with Anderson, Luce, Sheets and Luth were recent Oral Roberts University graduates. Coble was a former business instructor at the school.
Mr Luce said doctors were surprised that his daughter did not suffer any internal or brain injuries, nor broken bones. Currently, she is undergoing a series of skin graft surgeries, with a third surgery scheduled for Monday.
“The fact that Hannah is here with us is a miracle, and while I am overjoyed and so thankful to God that she's here, I am also deeply saddened at the loss of Austin, Stephen, Garrett and Luke," Ron Luce wrote Tuesday on his blog at www.Ron-Luce.com. "I can't even begin to understand the pain their parents are feeling right now."
The Acquire the Fire event was the last of 32 such events, which are held different cities across the nation from September through May of each year. The event is put on by Teen Mania Ministries, which founder Ron Luce started 25 years ago to reach out to troubled youths. The ministry is based in Garden Valley, Texas and it is one of the largest Christian youth ministry organizations in the country. In spite of the accident, the rally went on, but once word got out about the accident, everyone began to pray for those involved. (None of those aboard the plane held a critical role in running the event.)
“We did make an announcement at Acquire the Fire and everyone came together and prayed for those involved,” Mallette said.
Concerned readers can continue to pray for everyone at Teen Mania.
"Hannah is in a lot of pain. The medication can only do so much," Luce continued to write on his blog earlier this week. "She and our family are finding our greatest strength through your prayers. We are humbled and grateful to know that you are lifting our family up in prayer, and we can sense the presence of the Holy Spirit with us, helping Hannah heal."
On Wednesday, Luce appeared on the Today Show with Matt Lauer to talk about the four young men who gave their lives for the cause of Christ, and about his daughter Hannah's recovery. He said she is improving.
“The doctors were pretty amazed that she’s in as good of a shape that she’s in,” Luce said on the Today Show.
“As a father you don't think you can really love your kids more until something like this happens. The love I have for my daughter is overflowing.”
Hannah Luce joined the Teen Mania staff in January of 2012 and serves as an office assistant for her father. However, Luce, the oldest of three, has been involved with Teen Mania for much of her life.
Luce is awake and talking to her parents and doctors, but she has provided few details about the accident. “It is an emotional time,” said sources close to the family.
Ms. Luce is expected to make a full recovery. A spokesperson for the ministry said the length of her stay in the hospital depends on the outcome of the surgeries and on the recovery time that is needed for her to heal.
A website has been set up by Luce’s sister, Charity, to offer messages of encouragement for Hannah as she recovers at yourappleaday.tumblr.com/. Those interested in contributing may email content to email@example.com. For updates and funeral arrangement information, visit Ron Luce's blog at www.ron-luce.com.
Ginny McCabe is an author, feature and entertainment writer from Cincinnati, Ohio. You may email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit http://www.gmwriteon.com/.
Publication date: May 17, 2012