NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - The pilot of the plane that crashed Saturday, killing all seven people on board, was flying on an expired certificate that confirms whether a pilot is healthy enough to fly, FAA records show.

But a spokeswoman for the pilot’s church, Remnant Fellowship Church, disputes those records, saying Joe Lara did have an active medical certificate.

Robert Katz, a commercial pilot and aviation instructor who consults with News4 Investigates after plane crashes, said the medical certificate is required by the FAA to show that a pilot is in good enough health to fly.

“A medical certificate must be renewed periodically to determine a pilot's fitness and mental fitness to operate an airplane on a continuing basis,” Katz said.

The FAA’s records show that Lara’s medical certificate was earned in November 2017, and federal records show for pilots older than forty years old, that license must be renewed every two years.

The FAA records indicate his medical license would have expired 17 months before the crash.

The medical certificate provided by the church shows it was earned in November 2019, which means it would still be active at the time of the crash.

News4 Investigates received a copy of the medical certificate  from the church and sent it the FAA for clarification.

A FAA spokeswoman referenced our questions to the NTSB.

A NTSB spokesman said they have not reached the paperwork portion of their investigation yet. 

The medical certificate provided by the church does cite the signature of Dr. Bruce Hollinger, a Nashville-area senior aviation medical examiner, as the examiner.

A representative from Hollinger's office emailed in response to our questions, including they had been instructed to forward all questions to the FAA.

When asked if the FAA database is not kept up to date, their spokeswoman responded in an email that the database is up to date and "generally accurate."

Katz said too often, pilots allow their medical certificates to expire.

“That is the worst problem that occurs in general aviation today - it is the most common occurrence committed by pilots today. It's typically a conscious decision,” Katz said.

Rob Day, a longtime church member, said Lara was an attentive, spiritual pilot.

“There wasn’t a moment when I didn’t get in a plane with him that he stopped and prayed,” Day said.

Day also said Lara was meticulous in the inspection of his aircraft.

“He was so cautious, the amount of concern that he has into everything, I don’t know if anyone could have taken more time prepping a plane. Sometimes I’d be like ‘Come on, Joe, we have to go’ and he was walking around the plane checking everything,” Day said.

While there is no indication at this point that Lara’s health had anything to do with the crash, Katz said an alarm can be briefly heard in the background of Lara’s call with air traffic control.

“We hear an alarm going off  - don't know what exactly that alarm was is for - it will indicate something abnormal is occurring with the aircraft,” Katz said.

Katz also said the plane’s flight path shows it was only in the air for roughly two minutes.

“The flight came to an end very abruptly, very quickly, suggesting something catastrophically mechanically occurred,” Katz said.

Katz also said given that the plane is 39 years old and would have required frequent maintenance.

Those maintenance records will be included in log books typically kept by the pilot or plane owner, and the NTSB will be seeking to find those records, according to Katz

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Chief Investigative Reporter

Jeremy Finley is the chief investigator for News4 Investigates. His reporting has resulted in criminal convictions, legislative hearings before the U.S. Congress, and the payout of more than a million dollars to scam victims.

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