NTSB determines cause of crash that killed Gwen Shamblin, Brentwood church members

Report says the plane’s pilot lost control of plane due to spatial disorientation.
The NTSB has determined the cause of a 2021 plane crash that killed Gwen Shamblin Lara and other Remnant Fellowship Church members.
Published: Mar. 22, 2023 at 2:31 PM CDT|Updated: Mar. 22, 2023 at 4:16 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - The National Transportation Safety Board has determined the cause of a 2021 plane crash that killed Gwen Shamblin Lara and other Remnant Fellowship Church members.

The NTSB has determined the pilot’s loss of airplane control during climb due to spatial disorientation caused the plane to crash, killing the church leader and six others.

The NTSB posted the final report on its website on Wednesday.

The plane, piloted by Joe Lara, Gwen Shamblin Lara’s husband, crashed into Percy Priest Lake after takeoff from Smyrna Airport on May 29, 2021.

According to the report, flight track data revealed that after takeoff, the airplane entered the clouds and made a series of heading changes, along with several climbs and descents, before it entered a steep, descending left turn. This type of maneuvering was consistent with the onset of a type of spatial disorientation known as somatogravic illusion.

Robert Fowler, a commercial pilot and certified flight instructor, was among three aviation experts who consulted with WSMV4 on evaluating the NTSB report.

“The bottom line is, (Lara) couldn’t handle being in those conditions in that airplane,” Fowler said.

According to a National Transportation Safety Board performance study, accelerations associated with the airplanes increasing airspeed were likely perceived by the pilot as the airplane pitching up although it was in a continuous descent.

This occurred because the pilot was experiencing spatial disorientation and he likely did not effectively use his instrumentation during takeoff and climb.

As a result of the pilot experiencing spatial disorientation, he likely experienced a high workload managing the flight profile, which would have had a further adverse effect on his performance, NTSB said. As such, the airplane entered a high acceleration, unusual attitude, descending left turn from which the pilot was not able to recover.

Post-accident specimens were insufficient to evaluate the presence of any natural disease during autopsy. However, according to the NTSB, given the circumstances of this accident, it is unlikely that the pilot’s or pilot-rated passenger’s medical condition were factors in this accident.

WSMV4 Investigates had earlier reported that Lara admitted in family court that he had used marijuana and had troubles with insomnia.

According to FAA rules, “Medical conditions that chronically interfere with sleep are disqualifying regardless of whether a sleep aid is used or not.”

Our reporting showed Lara testified in court his last use of marijuana was in 2015, although the mother of his daughter stated that the girl reported smelling marijuana on her father in 2019.

In the NTSB report, Lara did not report any medication use or medical conditions to the Federal Aviation Administration on their recent and only medical certification examinations.

Aviation experts who consulted with WSMV4 Investigates agreed that had disclosed his prior drug use and troubles with insomnia, the FAA could have denied him a pilot’s license years ago.

The flight was carrying seven church leaders from Remnant Fellowship Church in Brentwood on a flight to West Palm Beach, Florida, when it took a nosedive into the lake shortly after takeoff.

The NTSB report also confirmed what WSMV4 Investigates also uncovered: that Lara’s second class medical certificate, which determines the health of a pilot, had expired before the crash.

However, when it expired, it essentially becomes a third class medical certificate, which is required to operate a plane like the one that crashed.

Gwen Shamblin Lara became famous for her Christian-based weight loss program, the Weigh Down Workshop.

Since Gwen Shamblin Lara’s death, the church is now under the leadership of Shamblin’s daughter Elizabeth.