Plane crash that killed Christian diet guru and 'Tarzan' actor was caused by pilot's 'spatial disorientation,' NTSB report says
By Jamiel Lynch and Tina Burnside, CNN
(CNN) -- The Tennessee plane crash that killed a Christian diet guru and six others in 2021 was caused by the pilot losing airplane control during a climb "due to spatial disorientation," according to a National Transportation Safety Board report filed Wednesday.
Dietician Gwen Shamblin Lara, her husband, actor William J. Lara, her son-in-law Brandon Hannah, and married couples Jennifer and David Martin and Jessica and Jonathan Walters, were on board the Cessna 501 when it took off from the Smyrna airport and headed for Palm Beach, Florida, on May 29, 2021.
Shortly after takeoff, the aircraft crashed into Percy Priest Lake in Smyrna, a community near Nashville, killing everyone onboard.
Flight tracking data later revealed that the aircraft had entered the clouds and made a series of heading changes and several climbs and descends before beginning a steep, descending left turn, according to the NTSB report.
The movements were consistent with the type of spatial disorientation known as somatogravic illusion, which meant the "accelerations associated with the airplane's increasing airspeed were likely perceived by the pilot as the airplane pitching up although it was in a continuous descent," the report said.
This type of disorientation typically occurs when pilots have "unreliable or unavailable external visual references," according to the Federal Aviation Administration. The pilot "likely did not effectively use his instrumentation during takeoff and climb," the NTSB report noted.
With the pilot possibly believing the plane was nose-up rather than nose-down, he couldn't recover after the aircraft started falling at a high acceleration, investigators said. The plane then hit a shallow reservoir of the lake at a high rate of speed, according to the NTSB.
About two-thirds of the plane's wreckage has since been recovered, the report added, including both engines, the main cabin door, pieces of the main cabin windows and several fractured seat frames. The recovered wreckage showed no signs of mechanical issues, according to the report.
Gwen Shamblin Lara was the founder and spiritual leader of Remnant Fellowship Church in Brentwood, south of Nashville. A registered dietician, she created the Weigh Down Diet, which encouraged dieters to strengthen their faith in God to lose weight.
Her husband, who went by Joe Lara, was an actor best known for playing the lead role in the TV series "Tarzan: The Epic Adventures," which ran from 1996 to 1997.
The Walterses and the Martins joined Remnant Fellowship Church in the late 1990s, according to the church's website. Hannah helped oversee the church's youth group.
After the crash, the church released a statement remembering the victims as "some of the finest and most loving people that you would ever come across."
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