Cause of Plane Crash That Killed Gwen Shamblin Released

The plane crash that killed controversial weight-loss guru Gwen Shamblin Lara happened after the pilot, actor Joe Lara, became disoriented in heavy clouds, the National Transportation Safety Board said in its final report. Shamblin, Lara, and five others were killed when the aircraft crashed into Percy Priest Lake in Tennessee on March 29, 2021. Shamblin was 66 and the leader of the Remnant Fellowship Church in Brentwood, Tennessee.

Lara, 58, was piloting the Cessna C501, when it "made a series of heading changes, along with several climbs and descents, before it entered a steep, descending left turn" moments after taking off from an airport outside Nashville, the report states. The maneuvering is similar to somatogenic illusion, a type of spatial disorientation, according to the NTSB study, reports CBS News. This disorientation likely caused Lara to believe the plane was going upward, even though it was descending.

The NTSB interviewed William Lardent, a local flight instructor who confirmed Lara could fly with instruments only. However, Lardent said Lara "struggled" when he had to rely on instruments in low visibility and while using autopilot. Lara could safely fly a plane, but Lardent said the Tarzan: The Epic Adventures star had difficulty with multitasking and situational awareness.

"Mr. Lara could not visualize in his mind where the airplane was in time/space unless he saw it on his iPad," the NTSB report reads. "Mr. Lara wanted to fly to bigger cities like New York and Las Vegas, but Mr. Lardent told him he was not ready because those areas were congested and you 'had to be on your game' to operate in those fast-moving environments."

A fisherman told the agency he thought he heard a "low-flying military jet" before the crash. The plane impacted the lake "in a 'straight down' attitude with the nose of the airplane impacting the water first," the witness said. Investigators also combed over the wreckage but found no mechanical malfunctions with the plane. They also counted out medical conditions among the pilot or co-pilot as a reason for the crash.

The other victims of the crash were previously identified as Brandon Hannah, David L. Martin, Jennifer J. Martin, Jessica Walters, and Jonathan Walters. Hannah was married to Shamblin's daughter, Elizabeth Shamblin Hannah, who was not on the plane. Lara's destination was Palm Beach, Florida.

Shamblin developed the controversial faith-based weight loss program called Weigh Down Workshop. After the program gained popularity in the 1990s, she founded the Remnant Fellowship Church in Franklin, Tennessee in 1999. She also built a 40-acre estate for the church in Brentwood. The controversy surrounding her church and the allegations of abuse were the subjects of the HBO Max documentary series The Way Down: God, Greed, and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin. In October 2021, NewsChannel 5 Nashville reported that Shamblin's last will left none of her fortune, estimated to be worth millions, to her church.