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Video: Dad of sole plane crash survivor: It’s a miracle

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TODAY contributor
updated 5/16/2012 9:11:10 AM ET 2012-05-16T13:11:10

While the father of the lone survivor of a plane that crashed in a Kansas field Friday is grateful that his daughter made it out alive, he is urging prayers for the families of the other passengers who did not.

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Ron Luce received the news from a stranger on Friday that his daughter, Hannah, 22, had survived when a twin-engine Cessna 401 crashed northwest of Chanute, Kan. Three other passengers in their 20s ultimately died, along with the pilot. They were on a trip from Tulsa, Okla., to Council Bluffs, Iowa, for an event held by Teen Mania Ministries, a Christian group that Luce founded 25 years ago to reach troubled youths.

“Miraculously, Hannah was spared, and we don’t understand why,’’ Luce told TODAY’s Matt Lauer on Wednesday. “As a father, you don’t think you can love your kids more until something like this happens. Of course my love for my daughter is overflowing, but it also makes the grief that I feel that all these other parents must feel unbearable as they lost their child. My heart goes out to them. We’re encouraging people to pray for all of those families.’’

‘Remarkably lucid’
Hannah, who graduated from Oral Roberts last year and is pursuing a master’s degree in counseling psychology at Oklahoma State, had a skin graft surgery on Monday and is scheduled for another one on Wednesday morning. She also may need another skin graft surgery next week. She began to share her story of the crash with her family on Tuesday while recovering at the University of Kansas Hospital.

Mom, daughters reunite with rescuers who saved them from dangling car

“She was remarkably lucid,’’ Luce said. “Apparently being awake the entire plane crash and the aftermath, some of the points of interest that she remembers are unbelievable and harrowing and frankly, shocking. I’m sure when she’s ready she’ll tell her story.’’

Although Hannah suffered burns over 28 percent of her body in the crash, Luce said that doctors believe it could have been much worse.

“She’s improving and they’re pretty shocked initially that there are no internal injuries, no brain injuries whatsoever, (and) no broken bones,’’ he said. “They were amazed that she was in as good a shape as she was in.’’

All of those who died were either students or instructors at Oral Roberts University, including pilot Luke Sheets, 23. Along with Sheets, Garrett Coble, 29, and Stephen Luth, 22, died on impact. Austin Anderson, 27, a former Marine who did two tours of duty in Iraq and had just graduated from Oral Roberts, died Saturday at a hospital in Wichita after suffering burns over 90 percent of his body.

Phone call from a stranger
Luce believes Anderson helped pull his daughter to safety, as the two were able to reach a nearby road to find a woman who was able to immediately call 911. Hannah then gave the woman her father’s number so she could alert him to what had happened.

Ron Luce said he does not usually answer calls from phone numbers he does not recognize, but decided to answer that call.

Story: Dad of family in crash: 'We've been given a second chance'

“It was a phone call that no parent wants to get,’’ Luce said. “She says, ‘Your daughter Hannah is fine.’ I said, ‘What do you mean? My daughter is on a plane.’ Your daughter is in front of me and she’s fine.’’’

Hannah Luce was able to manage a weak “hello’’ over the phone to her father, but could not speak further. Luce then asked the woman how Anderson was doing.

“When I asked how was Austin and can he talk to me, the phone just went dead,’’ Luce said. “She was on the line, but she couldn’t say a word. I know Austin, and he was a hero before he ever got on that plane, having served in the military. I know he has that kind of heart to give his life for a friend, for his country. (He was) full of life, full of passion.’’

Video: Dad of sole plane crash survivor: It’s a miracle (on this page)

Anderson had just been hired by the Teen Mania Ministries marketing staff and was part of a group traveling to the last of 33 “Acquire the Fire’’ rallies held across the country this year. Coble was a professor at Northeastern State (Okla.) University and had been on 15 trips with the group, according to a report by The Associated Press. The ministry is based in the Luces’ hometown of Garden Valley, Texas.

“We consider all the members onboard the plane, all those four that perished, heroes, because they have a passion for life and a passion for their faith and were going to an event to help discover how we can share that faith more and reach more young people,’’ Luce said. “In pursuit of their mission, their lives were ended.’’

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