KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A small airplane that crashed in southeast Kansas was carrying five people with connections to Oral Roberts University to a Christian youth rally in Iowa, a friend of three of the victims said Saturday.
The Kansas Highway Patrol reported that four of the passengers died in Friday’s crash and one was badly injured. Those killed were identified Saturday 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.
Hannah Luce, 22, of Garden Valley, Texas, was critically injured and admitted to the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan. Luce, a recent Oral Roberts graduate, is the daughter of Ron Luce, a trustee at the school and the founder of Teen Mania Ministries, which was sponsoring this weekend’s Acquire the Fire rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
The National Transportation Safety Board said the twin-engine Cessna 401 went down around 4:30 p.m. Friday northwest of Chanute, Kan. NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said the eight-seat plane caught fire after the crash.
“The plane lost contact with air traffic control after getting permission to descend to a lower altitude,” Knudson said. “After that, there was no further communication.”
Brooke Ninowski, who recently graduated from Oral Roberts, said she had been friends with Anderson for about two years – he was her brother’s roommate for a semester. She said they also had a few classes together.
Ninowski said she also knew Luth and Sheets through school, noting that Luth had dated one of her best friends.
“They were guys who stuck to their morals and it showed through their character, and how they treated people,” she said. “They thought of others first. I don’t know if the reports are true about Austin, that he might have pulled Hannah out of the wreckage, but that wouldn’t surprise me in any way.”
Sheets, Coble and Luth were killed at the scene, while Anderson died at a hospital in Wichita just before 5 a.m. Saturday, the Kansas Highway Patrol said.
“They were going to an Acquire the Fire event run by Teen Mania Ministries,” she said. “They’re put on in various cities, Christian youth rallies where young people come together and learn about God.”
On Saturday, Oral Roberts President Mark Rutland issued a statement asking the university community to pray for Luce and remember those who were killed. He said Luth, Sheets and Anderson were recent graduates, and Coble was a former business instructor at the school.
“The entire ORU community grieves for the families of the ORU graduates who lost their lives in this tragic plane accident,” Rutland said. “May God grant them peace and they reflect on the precious lives that were so dear to their hearts. We continue to pray for those who are recovering.”