The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

May 15, 2012

Ringwood veteran saved fellow passenger's life after plane crash

By Phyllis Zorn, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID — A Ringwood man who died Saturday morning from injuries suffered in a Friday plane crash in southeast Kansas is being remembered for saving the life of another passenger.

Austin Anderson, 27, was one of five people in a twin-engine Cessna 40 that had left Tulsa en route to a youth rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Luke Sheets, Garrett Coble and Stephen Luth died in the crash.

Fellow passenger and sole survivor, Hannah Luce, 22, of Garden Valley, Texas, told her father she would not have gotten out without Anderson’s help. Luce is in a Kansas City hospital undergoing treatment for burns.

Anderson was taken to a Wichita hospital, where he died the following morning from burns covering more than 90 percent of his body, as well as burns to his lungs.

Austin Anderson’s uncle, Cody Anderson, said Luce’s father, Ron Luce, has been in contact with the Anderson family since the crash.

“This is what we do know,” Cody Anderson said. “We know Austin and Hannah were in the back of the plane. We know the plane was on fire.”

Ron Luce has said a woman phoned him to say Hannah was with her near the road, and Anderson also was there.

“We know Austin helped her out of the fuselage and got her to the side of the road,” Cody Anderson said. “Ron Luce has said there’s no way she could have gotten where she did without his help.”

The others in the plane, pilot Luke Sheets, 23, of Ephraim, Wis.; Garrett Coble, 29, of Tulsa; and Stephen Luth, 22, of Muscatine, Iowa, all died at the scene.

Cody Anderson said his nephew was living his dream when he graduated from Oral Roberts University two weeks ago and was hired as director of operations for Teen Mania Ministries. The trip to a rally was to be his first official trip in his duties with the organization.

“He graduated from college and went immediately into a job he was passionate about,” Cody Anderson said. “That’s always what Austin wanted to do — he wanted to change the world. He didn’t want to do it small, he wanted to do something big.”

Austin Anderson’s fiancee, Elizabeth Thaxton, 20, of Minnetonka, Minn., said he lived his life in a way that exemplified his favorite quote from the movie “Braveheart.”

“Every man dies, but not every man truly lives,” Thaxton recalled. “It was all about purpose and knowing what we were to do on earth. His role and purpose is done on this side of heaven.”

Thaxton said she is not surprised Austin Anderson did what he did during his final moments of life.

Neither is Steve Hoffsommer, superintendent of Kremlin Public Schools. Hoffsommer was Austin Anderson’s high school football coach at Ringwood for two years and remembers him as “one of the top kids in my 37 years in education.”

“Knowing Austin, I could see where he would do that,” Hoffsommer said.

Hoffsommer described Austin Anderson as “the Tim Tebow of Major County” because he talked a lot about his faith.

“He wanted everybody to know he was a Christian, and he would just share his faith with anybody that would listen,” Hoffsommer said.

Hoffsommer said it sounded as if Austin Anderson was well on his way to becoming a youth minister, and recalled that Austin Anderson’s father was also a minister.

“We’re just all deeply saddened to hear that news, but we know where our eternal destiny is,” Hoffsommer said.

In addition, Austin Anderson was a former Marine who served two tours of duty in Iraq before going to Oral Roberts University. Besides his fiancee, he leaves behind a mother, brother and sister.