Investigation underway into Tennessee plane crash that killed 7 including controversial church founder, Tarzan actor


SMYRNA, Tenn. (NewsNation Now) — Authorities are continuing to investigate what caused a small jet with seven people on board to crash into Tennessee lake Saturday morning.

Both engines along with more human remains were recovered from the water Monday. Rutherford County Medical Examiner’s Office says they can “confidently verify that there are seven individuals, four males and three females.”

Crews will focus Tuesday on the area between the Lamar Hill Boat Ramp and the Weakley Lane Bridge in J. Percy Priest Lake. The office will work with the Middle Tennessee Regional Forensic Center to positively identify the remains biologically and scientifically.

The occupants of the plane have been identified as leaders of Remnant Fellowship Church in Brentwood. Their names are:

  • William J. Lara
  • Gwen S. Lara
  • Jennifer J. Martin
  • David L. Martin
  • Jessica Walters
  • Jonathan Walters
  • Brandon Hannah

WKRN obtained the tail number of the plane involved in the crash. Records show it registered to a production company called ‘JL&GL PRODUCTIONS LP’ associated with leaders of Remnant Fellowship Church, specifically Joe Lara and Gwen Shamblin Lara.

Gwen Shamblin Lara started the Remnant Fellowship Church in 1999 as an extension of her popular book The Weigh Down Diet. More than 100,000 churches across 66 denominations began holding ‘weigh down workshop’ ministries. In November of 2004, the Remnant Fellowship Church in Brentwood opened its doors.

“It’s teaching you how to transfer this relationship with the food – and we’ve got one on this country – to a relationship with God,” Shamblin said in a previous interview.

Since the church began, there have been questions and concerns. Shamblin’s public denial of the Holy Trinity led churches to drop her program.

Spirit-watch, a website that issued a 50-page report on the church’s teachings concluded by stating the Remnant Fellowship meets its criteria of being a cult. Shamblin and other church members sued Spirit-Watch and an anonymous blogger who had also been critical of the church.

William Lara, who goes by his middle name “Joe” married Gwen in 2018. He’s an actor best known in the role of Tarzan in the television series Tarzan: The epic adventures. His work included a Baywatch appearance and a key role in a Gunsmoke movie.

Remnant Fellowship responded to a Facebook message from WKRN prior to officials releasing the identifies of those on board the plane, saying:

“The Shamblins, Hannahs and Laras appreciate your concern, support and prayers.  As has been reported by the media, some family members may have been involved in a plane accident this morning. The families are awaiting details from the authorities. Because no details have been confirmed, the authorities have been unable to communicate with the families of those involved. The families will share details at the appropriate time. In the meantime, the families respectfully request prayers and privacy for all involved, please.”

Remnant Fellowship

The preliminary investigation could take up to 14 days, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, and the entire investigation could take 18 to 24 months.

A major part of the investigation is looking at the pilot’s training and records to help determine the cause.

“It depends on what they find in terms of what the training issues were, so it could be all of the above, it could be not only people who trained with him, but also people who flew with him, what was this person like as a pilot? They will go into any source they can to find out what happened,” said Christopher Hart, former chairman of the NTSB.

The Lamar Hill Boat Ramp will reopen Tuesday but the Fate Sanders Recreation Area will remain closed until further notice.

NewsNation affiliate WKRN and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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