NASHVILLE – Controversial food 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, have announced the authorities.
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 Captain Joshua Sanders said there appeared to be no survivors.
“Our efforts have shifted from a rescue effort to that of a recovery effort,” he said. “We are no longer seeking (…) to search for living victims at this stage.”
Gwen Lara, 66, was founder of the Remnant Fellowship Church and author of “The Weigh Down Diet”, a program based on “helping people turn away from the love of food and into 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, Hannahs 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. ”
Gwen Lara, other controversial church leaders presumed dead in plane crash
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 media coverage over the years after founding the church on what she called “faith-based” weight loss. The Remnant Fellowship website lists food before drugs, depression, self-focus, money, anger, selfishness, envy, and jealousy as idols that need to be ‘asked’.
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 bright, thin people, according to a profile in The Tennessean ten years ago. She made insensitive comments about skinny Jews in concentration camps and claimed that genetics played no 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 texted the Remnant families on Sunday asking for prayers. Hannah wrote that the plane “had to descend for a quick and controlled landing.”
The text said the Lara’s were on the plane, along with Remnant executives David and Jennifer Martin, Jonathan and Jessica Walters, and Elizabeth Hannah’s husband, Brandon.
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. In addition to the Lara’s, 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, Tennessee, a suburban Nashville town of about 40,000 people.
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: Adam Tamburin, Nashville Tennessean; The Associated Press