An Oklahoma Marine made the ultimate sacrifice when he pulled a friend out of a fiery plane wreck, saving her life but suffering fatal burns over 90 percent of his body.
Friends of Hannah Luce, the lone survivor of Friday's crash of a twin-engine Cessna 401 just northwest of Chanute, Kan., hailed Austin Anderson as a hero who gave his life without a second thought. The pair was among five young adults bound from Tulsa for a Christian youth group conference in Iowa.
“He is a very tough guy, but once you got to know him, he was ... a teddy bear,” Lauren Rockett said of the man she got to know at Oral Roberts University. “It would be totally like Austin's character.”
Three companions aboard the flight, Stephen Luth, Luke Sheets and Garrett Coble, died instantly, but Anderson, 27, and Luce, 22, survived the crash. Luce was trapped inside the burning fuselage, but Anderson managed to pull her out and guide her to a nearby road. Luce had a passerby call her father while they waited for an ambulance, which then took them to a Wichita hospital. Anderson died there early Saturday morning.
Hannah is being treated for severe burns over 28 percent of her body. She was scheduled to undergo skin graft surgery on Monday.
"The way I discovered about my daughter and the plane accident was probably the most unscripted way you could imagine," Ron Luce said Sunday during a news conference at University of Kansas Hospital. "I asked [the woman], where's the plane? She said it's off in the distance, and there are flames, there's smoke."
Luce said he asked his daughter about reports that Anderson had pulled her from the wreckage, but "she just began to tear up" and didn't respond.
"I know Austin, he's that kind of guy," Ron Luce said. "He served two tours in Iraq, and he was willing to give his life for his country. He was willing to give his life for a friend. He was always willing to go that extra mile."
Anderson had just being hired for a Christian group called Teen Mania. Rockett said she wasn't surprised when she heard Anderson had saved a life with little regard for his own. Rockett’s classmate, Brooke Ninowski, created a documentary more than a year ago about Anderson’s life for a class assignment. In the film, Anderson spoke of feeling "fearless" because he has God’s help.
“That's one of the only comforting thoughts that he knew before he died, that he had a relationship with God," said Rockett.
Anderson served in Iraq before attending Oral Roberts University, where Luce also attended and graduated from last year with a degree in theology.
The five were flying to an "Acquire the Fire" Christian rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa. It was the last of 33 such events this year held across the U.S. by Teen Mania Ministries, which was founded 25 years ago by Ron Luce, with the goal of reaching out to troubled youths. The ministry is based in Garden Valley, Texas, where the Luce family lives.